Author Archives: Conrod Kelly

SILENT

NO coincidence –

I was listening to the news one morning while getting dressed for work, and I heard someone say, “You know, silent and listen are basically the same word.”  I didn’t think much about it at first, but as I was finishing my breakfast, I realized that silent and listen are anagrams.  An anagram is when you rearrange letters in a word to make a different word using the same letters.

Off all the common anagrams, this one seemed to have a deeper meaning.  I did a quick Google search and came across a quote from Alfred Brendel that says, “Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters – coincidence? I don’t think so.”

On my commute to work I received a phone call from a close friend saying they needed to vent and they wanted to know if I had few minutes to LISTEN to them.  Coincidence?  My friends typically call me for my advice, but this call was very specific to listening.  Given the events of the morning, I graciously agreed to listen and sat on the other side of the line – SILENT.

What I learned that morning was how important it is to just listen sometimes.  In today’s society, advice seems to be in abundance, but there seems to be a shortage of people actually listening.  While feedback is a gift and carries a great deal of power, sometimes giving someone your undivided attention can be just as powerful, if not more, especially if that is what they need in that moment.

Most people are comfortable speaking, and if they are not, they will seek out ways to improve their communication skills.  However, it is rare to find anyone actively working on improving his or her listening skills.  At work and in our personal lives, listening skills are critical, because we spend most of our time interacting with others.  People need to know their opinion matters (empathy), you hear them (processing) and that you are listening without judgment (acknowledgement).  Among its many benefits, listening builds trust and respect, enables information sharing, and encourages collaborative problem solving.

Give people the simple gift of listening.

  • Before the conversation
    • Plan to limit the time you are speaking to 20-25% of the time
    • Remove all distractions
    • During the conversation
      • Notice the speakers body language and be mindful of your own: eye contact, facial expressions and body language
      • Paraphrase and asking clarifying questions
      • After the conversation
        • Say thank you and identify any follow-ups

Here are some of my favorite quotes about the skill of listening:

  • “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” –Doug Larson
  • “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” –Bryant H. McGill
  • “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” –Bernard Baruch
  • “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” –Stephen R. Covey
  • “The art of conversation lies in listening.” –Malcom Forbes
  • “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” –M. Scott Peck
  • “We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.” –Diogenes

Undefeated vs. Unforgettable

Boxing Gloves_11

I’m not exactly sure when I became a fan of boxing.  If I had to pinpoint one boxing contest that cemented my love for the sport it would have to be the “Iron” Mike Tyson vs. James “Buster” Douglas fight in Tokyo, Japan circa 1990.  I am almost certain February 11th, 1:00 AM EST, in the 10th round, may have been one of the quietest moments in history as millions watched in shock as Tyson laid on the canvas unable to find his mouth piece, his legs, or his will to continue.  I had just witnessed the fall of a giant.  The unbeatable had just tasted defeat.  Say what you may about Mike Tyson and his life outside of the ring, his lisps, and “extensive” vocabulary, but no one expected him to lose that fight, or any fight. He was well on his way to becoming the most “unforgettable undefeated” fighter ever.   

Equally as memorable as the knockout was his post fight interview when he asserted, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit.”  The events of that night and Tyson’s post fight statement underscores the unpredictability of the sport that makes it so intriguing, and why every match, no matter the opponent, is an upset waiting to happen.  No matter how good or bad the opponent is, a boxer is only one punch away from being knocked out or one point away from losing a decision.  One punch or one point could dramatically change the course of a boxer’s life.

Let’s play a little game.  I want you to review the list of names below and count how many you know from each column.

Muhammed Ali                                   Rocky Marciano

Oscar De La Hoya                             Joe Calzaghe

Roberto Duran                                   Sven Ottke

Julio Ceaser Chavez                         Ike Ibeabuchi

Sugar Ray Leonard                           Harry Simon

George Foreman                               Edwin Valero

Joe Frazier                                        Terry Marsh

Joe Louis                                          Ji-Won Kim

Mike Tyson                                       Michael Loewe

I am going to assume that you recognized more names from the left compared to those on the right.  You many not have even known that the names on the right are boxers as well.  What they all have in common is that they are all in the World Boxing Federation Hall of Fame.  What makes them different is the fact the boxers on the left have all lost multiple fights (ranging from 3-16) and the boxers on the right are undefeated.  For most of the fighters on the left, they returned stronger after each defeat. They actually became better boxers after each loss because their weaknesses were exposed and they learned from them.

Boxing is very similar to life and there is a lot we can learn from the sport.

  1. Having an undefeated record can be a burden.  Once you have lost a fight, the pressure to be perfect is somewhat diminished.  Those who have lost always seem to bring a little something extra to their next fight.
  2. Don’t be afraid to get in the ring even when you think you are outclassed. Take on challenging assignments.  If you are reluctant or afraid, ask yourself “what is the worst that could happen?” You may be wildly successful or you may get knocked out, but …see #3
  3. No one individual loss is the end of your career. We have become so obsessed with perfection that we overlook the opportunity in defeat.
  4. A good offense is often your best defense, however, you must remember to protect yourself at all times.  One should be aggressive in pursuing their professional and personal goals, but we aware of the blind spots that can be developed in doing so.  Examples of protecting yourself from those blinds spots may include developing relationships in other areas of the company, seeking out feedback, acquiring additional skill sets that will make you more attractive across diverse areas of the company, and building external relationship.

I don’t want to take away anything from those fighters that have gone undefeated, but the reason many of them became “forgettable” is because retaining the ’0′ became more important than giving memorable performances, and in the end, being undefeated didn’t result it the fame they though it would deliver.

So do you want to be undefeated or unforgettable?

*Numbers in parentheses reflect losses: Joe Louis (3), Muhammed Ali (5), George Foreman (5), Joe Frazier (4), Roberto Duran (16), Sugar Ray Leonard (3), Oscar De La Hoya (6), Julio Ceaser Chavez (6), and Mike Tyson (6)

 

IF PEPSI TASTES BETTER, WHY DO MORE PEOPLE STILL CHOOSE COKE?

Depending on how old you are, you may remember the “Pepsi Challenge” marketing campaign of the 1980s.  For those unfamiliar with it, it was a double-blinded experiment to determine if Pepsi tastes better than Coke.  To remove the bias of advertising, individuals were blindfolded and asked to choose their favorite soda by focusing only on taste.

When the commercials aired, the participants always picked Pepsi – no surprise there.  The interesting thing was that most people also picked Pepsi (62%) who tried it in real life—the sweeter taste was more appealing.

Before the launch of the “Pepsi Challenge,” Coke was the dominant brand, but Pepsi was closing the gap.  After the launch of the new campaign, Pepsi was outselling Coke in supermarkets across the globe.  Even better, Pepsi forced Coke into what is widely regarded as one of the worst business decisions of all time.

Shortly after the launch of the Pepsi campaign, Coke began working on a secret venture  – dubbed Project Kansas – to develop a superior product. The result?  New Coke, a sweeter cola reformulated to beat Pepsi and the classic formulation of Coke in blind taste tests.

Spoiler alert – it didn’t work!

Loyal Coke fans were irate.  They didn’t want a new flavor.  Coca-Cola’s senior leadership acted swiftly and reintroduced the original formula under the name “Coca-Cola Classic.”   Despite the stumble, Coke retained their market position, and to this day, Pepsi remains number two.

So I come back to my original question.  If Pepsi tastes better, why do more people still choose Coke?

Coke’s ability to remain number one is an example of branding over flavor, and the impact advertising plays in shaping our decisions.  Where Coke did miscalculate, besides changing the formula, was never asking testers if they wanted the taste to change. In essence, they asked the wrong question, so they got the wrong answer and failed to grasp the fact that it wasn’t just about the taste.

I have to acknowledge a valiant effort from Pepsi who, for a moment, made people believe that taste should be the driving force for choosing soft drinks.

However, sip tests often produce completely different results versus more common use. While many people prefer a sweeter drink when having just a small amount, they often find these drinks too sweet when consumed in large quantities.

So what can the Pepsi Challenge teach us about making choices in our personal or professional lives?

  • When making choices, be aware of the influence of branding
    • From early childhood, our perception of a good person, partner, or profession is being shaped by others’ ideas.  It requires a significant amount of discipline to make choices based on what is important to you.  At the end of the day, even if others don’t agree, if certain criteria are important to you when deciding who you want to be, whom you want to be with, or what you want to become, don’t compromise on it.
  • A small dose of “sweet” should not determine a long term commitment
    • The importance of making a good first impression is no secret.  Knowing this, a lot of critical decisions are based on first impressions or “sip tests.”  It is unlikely you will learn everything you need to know about someone or a company to make a long-term commitment from a limited encounter.  Sure, there is that initial rush of sweetness, but will it last? Put differently, a “test drive” in a parking lot is not enough to determine how a car will handle on a highway.
  • Fail fast
    • If you see something is not working, do not delay corrective action.  You may risk losing yourself, people who have been loyal to you or missing out on opportunities.  If you keep ending up in the “same situation,” then the questions you are asking are leading you down the same path. For example, asking, “Do you believe in work-life balance?” is not the same as “Do you allow four-day work weeks?”
  • Authenticity and consistency creates loyalty
    • The best you is the real you (always the real thing).  Maintaining a façade is exhausting and simply not healthy or sustainable over the long haul.  You will inevitably make a drastic change from what people have come to expect, and that alone can destroy any relationship.

Bottom line, making choices is a science experiment similar to the “Pepsi Challenge.”  The more you do it, the more you learn what you like, what you don’t like, and also what people like and don’t like about you – assuming you ask the right questions.

Conrod Kelly – Coke drinker

GAME CHANGER

My favorite game to play, besides scrabble of course, is spades.  I was first introduced to the game of spades when I was a middle school student.  Learning to play in middle school was a lifesaver because in the seventh grade I started taking classes at my local high school.  Most of the upperclassmen just stared at me like a caged zoo animal until the day they needed a fourth player.

“Hey kid, do you know how to play spades?” I was asked.

“Yep”, I responded

“Do you know how to play well,” they asked.

“Why is that important? You afraid to lose?” I asserted.

The entire class started laughing, and I was invited to sit at the spades table.

Spades continued to be a game that I enjoyed playing throughout high school and college.  When I first stepped onto the campus of Florida A&M University and into my dorm, three complete strangers greeted me.   We were from different parts of the country, sounded very different, had different majors, and had different life experiences.  Other than being four black males randomly chosen to live in the same place, there was one more thing that we had in common; we were all spades players.

After unpacking and saying our good-byes to our families, we sat down to play.  Less than five minutes into the game, I’m sure our neighbors could hear the arguing and shouting coming from our apartment.

What happened you might ask?

We all sat down to play a game we grew up loving but never took the time to understand how each person played the game.  Once we started talking we realized that we all played the game very differently.  Our discussion revealed rules such as first hand bids itself, blind bids, various deuces as trumps, three books for a renege, and finally sand bags.

Most serious spades players equate it to life, and here is why:  In life, when you find yourself in a new environment, you have to learn the rules.  Sometimes you may be able to discover them through observation, but that may take too long. Often times it requires asking upfront or doing a little research.  There are written and unwritten rules in life that if ignored, can not only lead to a breakdown in communication but also lead to negative consequences.

When joining a new company, it is important to understand the company’s culture.  It is not ok to assume that because you could wear jeans on a Friday or come in at 9:00 a.m. at your old company that the same will work at your new company.  Your ability to learn the rules and then play by them impact your ability to be successful at this game I call corporate America.  The same applies for traveling domestically or internationally, composing your behavior in certain professional or social settings, or even dating.  Never make the assumption that what worked somewhere else or with someone else is going to work somewhere new or with someone new.

Lastly, and most importantly, in some situations, these rules are long established and are very difficult to change.  Translation: you will not be able to show up on day one and change the game.  Even if you were in a position where you had the power to do so, culture change is difficult and often requires a significant amount of time.  You would be better off leaving a company rather than trying to change its culture.  On the flip side, some situations are so fluid that the rules change frequently, so you have to be adept at adjusting or you will find yourself out of the game.

FLY FISHING

Let me start off by telling you two things about me:

First – I’ve never fished with an actual fishing pole.

Second – I hate sitting next to people on the airplane whose first question is “What do you do?”

Let’s tackle the topic of fishing first. I really have to blame my father for not teaching me how to fish with a fishing pole. I find it so ironic that I was born on an island where so many people earn a living by fishing and yet I was never taught how to use a fishing pole. When my father taught me how to fish we simply used a hook, bait, weight, and a line. It still amazes me how many red snappers we were always able to catch with what I used to call a “string” as a child.

Although I do not yet have any children of my own, I did make a promise to myself that I would teach them how to fish with a pole. Being the overachiever that I am, I started watching fishing TV shows to learn as much as I could. While watching an episode of “Wicked Tuna,” I came across two terms that I had never heard before. The first was chum, which is chopped up fish; and the second was chumming, which is the process of throwing chopped up fish overboard to attract other fish. It was fascinating watching fisherman use scrap fish to catch five hundred pound blue fin tuna worth thousands of dollars.

Hold that thought for a moment.

So let’s talk about the talkative people I always end up sitting next to on my flights. Because my job requires me to travel a good amount, I’ve racked up enough miles to earn status, so occasionally I am upgraded to first class. I assume that the other individuals in first class are there because they travel as much as I do or because they coughed up the extra cash to not be bothered by the people (like me) that tend to fly coach.

My normal routine is to pull out my newspaper, laptop, or Bose headphones to send that early signal that I do not want to be disturbed. However, it never fails that I end up sitting next to “Dave” who wants to know what I do. My goal is always to give as little information as possible in hopes that Dave will leave me be.

Below is a snippet of a conversation I actually had with a guy named Dave several years ago.

Dave: “So, what do you do?”

Did he really just tap me on the arm even though I am wearing noise-cancelling headphones?

Conrod: “I turn people into believers.”

That should be the end of the conversation right? Nope!

Dave: “Hmm, what does that mean?”

Wow! Really Dave?

Conrod: “I convince people that they can have the health outcomes they have always wanted.”

Dave: “That’s interesting! How do you convince people of this?”

Dave is not going to let me off the “hook.”

Conrod: “I am in marketing for a large pharmaceutical company.”

I’m pretty sure you can imagine how this story ends. Dave and I end up talking the entire flight and low and behold he is a physician heading to the same conference that I am. During our conversation we learn that we are staying at the same hotel so we decide to share a cab. After getting to the hotel, Dave and I agree to meet at the bar to watch the football game and have a drink. Dave also took it upon himself to invite a few of his friends to join us at the bar. Two of the gentlemen he introduced me to actually ended up being customers of mine a few years later. Believe it or not, Dave and I are still in touch to this day

So let me tie it all together.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, my attempt to discourage people from asking me questions about what I do was actually backfiring on me. My smart aleck comment was actually the bait and the hook. It was so different from anything he had probably heard in the past that he was instantly intrigued. My brevity was the line and the weight. Since Dave was expecting me to say more and I didn’t, my silence generated a plethora of questions in his mind and left him with no choice but to ask more questions to get a deeper understanding. Before getting off the plane I had already reeled him in, but what I didn’t realize was that the cab ride consisted of me chumming. The chumming eventually ended up helping me catch the big tuna, which were his friends that ultimately became my customers.

I accidentally stumbled into my version of the elevator pitch, which I now call chumming. People do not want to hear a pre-planned fifteen or thirty second pitch followed by the gibberish that comes at the end of a radio commercial for Labor Day Car Bonanza. They want to be intrigued. They want a conversation. By using the same items my father used when he taught me how to fish – bait, hook, weight, and line, you too can catch the big tuna.

I guess I owe my father an apology. And to my future children, you will not learn how to fish with a pole.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverb

KEEPING IT REAL!

Some of my favorite snacks growing up were Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit-Loops, and Pop Tarts. When possible, my mom would try to steer me towards “real” fruit, but I would always remind her that the snacks I loved were made with “real” fruit.

Not too long ago, my health conscious friend Darrell forwarded me an article about Kellogg being sued for deceptive advertising because of their use of “made with real fruit.” I immediately went to my pantry to review the label on my fruit snacks; and here is what I found:

Go figure, my mother was right. “Made With Real Fruit” meant fruit concentrate, corn syrup, dried corn syrup (really?), natural flavor (Isn’t that what the “real fruit” is for?), and color (red 40, yellow 5&6, and blue 1 – my favorite).

As I dug a little deeper, I realized that there were several companies in hot water for making claims about their products that were not quite accurate. Have you seen the following claims on some of your favorite products: “all natural,” “sugar free,” “no sugar added,” “fat free,” or “organic?” While some companies have rightfully earned the freedom to use these claims, other companies are putting consumers, their employees, and investors at risk by stretching the truth or not “keeping it real.”

This issue of not “keeping it real” has gone beyond product claims to employee and company behavior. Over the last couple of years, people have developed a deep distrust of companies, notably banks and mortgage companies and their leaders. The absence of integrity as a core value for a company and its’ leaders has led to the skyrocketing of “authenticity” as a key leadership behavior. Organizations are looking for leaders who are self-aware, speak with courage and candor, and practice integrity when interacting with customers, employees and stockholders.

Regardless of your role or title, authenticity is an important behavior to exhibit. In their article “Be Yourself, but Carefully,” Lisa Rosh and Lynn Offermann state, “Authenticity begins with self awareness: knowing who you are – your values, emotions, and competencies – and how you’re perceived by others.”

In my quest to be an authentic person and leader, I came up with five steps to help achieve my goal of always being the “real” me.

1) It starts with knowing your story and telling your story.

Your life story is one of the best guides for discovering your authentic self. It provides the context for what makes you the way you are. Your triumphs and disappointments point you towards your inspiration and passion, and through telling your story, you are able to help others find theirs. You can start the discovery process by answering the following questions:

  • Which people and experiences in my life generated “real” emotions from me?
  • What are my values? How do they shape my behavior and decisions?

2) The real you is the best you.

Discovering the real you requires a mix of self-reflection, self-disclosure and self-awareness. I have found self-awareness to be somewhat tricky, so what has helped me with my self-awareness is completing the following statements:

  • I am most happy when I ____________
  • I am at my worst when I ____________
  • When I am being the real me I am ____________
  • When I am not being the real me I am ___________
  • When describing me, people often say that I am ________

3) The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

One of the best ways to be authentic is by being honest with yourself and others about your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Denial is one of the biggest hindrances of authenticity. I try to have at least one person in my life that I can be completely honest with about the good, the bad and the ugly. This person (and I am blessed to have more than one) also helps keep me honest by holding me accountable for my actions.

4) There is no “I” in team.

Building on my previous point, authentic people realize that they have to be willing to listen to feedback. One of the best tools for discovering your authentic self is getting feedback from friends, family, and co-workers. These individuals can provide support, guidance and perspective.

5) Consider Your Audience

There are two points I would like to highlight as it relates to your audience. First, despite the multitude of benefits that comes with being authentic, you still have to be mindful of what you are sharing, who you are sharing it with and when you are sharing it. What helps me avoid falling into a hole on this topic is asking myself “What is my purpose for sharing this information?” Sometimes “keeping it real” can go wrong if things are being shared for the wrong reason. Secondly, being genuine and authentic helps build trust and confidence, which are two critical components for establishing your brand and developing great personal and professional relationships.

A brand is a person’s instinctual reaction to a product, service, or company. Similar to Pop Tart, you too can be a brand. A person can have an instinctual reaction to your appearance, your words and/or your behavior. The foundation of a brand is trust. The foundation of a good relationship is also trust. Your personal brand is directly correlated to your relationship with people. People will trust your brand when their experience consistently meets or beats their expectations.

When I discovered that “made with real fruit” was a false claim, those products no longer met my expectations, and I severed my relationship with any and all companies that unjustly made these claims.

Do not run the risk of someone doing the same to you because you didn’t keep it real.

I’M OPEN

I am the fourth child in a family of six children. I have three older brothers of which two are seven years older than me and the remaining brother is eight years older than I am. My little brother and sister are eleven and thirteen years younger than me, respectively. Other than highlighting the fact that my parents have been “busy” for a while, there was a significant period of time where I was the baby in the family before I became a big brother.

As the little brother, I can tell you countless stories of things my brothers did to torture me. On an overcast night, my oldest brother told me that because I couldn’t see the moon, I was the devil. Whenever I would ask to go with them anywhere, they would always tell me to take a shower and change my clothes. It always seemed like a reasonable request, but as soon as my bedroom or bathroom door would close, they would speed off.

Eventually, things got better and they would take me with them whenever they went to play basketball. I’m not sure if it was because they wanted to hang out with me or because at the age of ten I was taller than them. Each time we played, I spent most of the time yelling, “I’m open, I’m open.” In true “baby” fashion, when I didn’t get the ball I would start crying and walk off the court. Giving up actually made things worst, as they would make fun of me even more. I guess I wasn’t the most resilient child. On the walk or drive home they would give me some very candid “feedback” about my behavior and explain to me what it meant to be “open” and the things I could do to get myself open.

The lessons my brothers shared with me about how to be open on the court transferred over to my life off the court. It is not enough to just say you are open; you actually have to take some actions to make yourself open.

Below are seven tips from my big brothers:

  1. Become a continuous learner (learn the game)
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (if you are not sure, ask)
  3. Become a better listener (the feedback is meant to help you, not hurt you)
  4. Stay in the moment (and the game)
  5. Be patient (take your time, don’t rush the shot)
  6. Always be aware (know where the ball is, where you are, and the person you are guarding)
  7. Don’t be afraid (you play slower when you play scared)

The best part of being the baby and then becoming a big brother was the fact that I was afforded the opportunity to teach my little brother and sister what I had learned. By passing on the knowledge, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of what it meant to be open.

One of the most important things I’ve learned about myself is that I am not always open. When I am frustrated or angry or hurt, I’m not in a position to be “open.” When I learned that about myself, I made a point of letting people know when I was open to feedback and also made a habit of asking people if they are in a position to receive feedback before providing it.

Just incase you are wondering, I was and still am a great big brother. I took my little brother and sister with me everywhere I went. As for the Marine Corps basic training exercises I would make them do outside in front of their friends for bad behavior or failure to do chores, I was just teaching them how to be RESILIENT.

What advice would you give others who are seeking to become more open?

ROSES

My wife and I currently live in a row home in Philadelphia and we have been thinking about moving out to the suburbs. Even though we both enjoy spending time downtown, we do not do it enough to want to pay the city wage taxes, especially since we both work on the outskirts of town. So every Sunday we pull up our real estate apps and sort through the open houses in hopes that one of them will be our dream home.

We typically pick homes based on the price, neighborhood, floor plan, and curb appeal; and we rarely ever look at more than two or three. Last Sunday, we found an open house that looked like it could be the one. So we got dressed and rushed over to the property. We were so excited as we approached the door. We walked into the house expecting roses, doves, and butterflies, and then it hit us.

The smell of mildew, cigarette smoke, pet odors, and left overs from two Thanksgivings ago filled the air. This beautiful home that we were so excited to see didn’t even manage to get five minutes of our time. We just couldn’t get over the smell. You could tell that the owners had tried to mask the odors, but it just made it worst. We wondered how much time, effort, and money they put into air-fresheners, candles, or plug-ins, instead of ripping up old carpet, fixing a water leak, or taking out the trash. No matter how large, exquisite, or updated a home is, if it has an unpleasant odor, it will be much harder to sell.

What do you smell like?

When was the last time you asked someone to give you the sniff test?

Now while having good hygiene is important, the sniff test is a metaphor for getting feedback. When you get so close or attached to who you are or who you think you are, sometimes referred to as the ego, it is often difficult to acknowledge your blind spots. Most of us have certain characteristics that are obvious to everyone but ourselves.

To find out if you have issues that need to be addressed, seek out feedback from a friend, mentor, or co-worker. A little hint that something may not be quite right is if you keep getting the same kinds of comments from different people.

Unlike the home we visited, if you discover during the feedback process that there are some things you can work on, then don’t try to mask them. Go after the source. It amazes me how hard people will work to avoid the extra effort required to permanently address the issue. There is an old saying that an arrogant person walks around as if their “stuff” doesn’t smell. Outkast, the Atlanta based rap duo, profited off of this saying with their hit song “Roses.” Do not fall into this trap of allowing your ego to tell you your stuff smells like roses.

Every home has a scent, but unless the owner gets feedback from someone who doesn’t live in it, they’ll never know whether it’s a deterrent to someone buying it. Passing the sniff test is not only a huge part of selling a home; it is a huge part of selling yourself.

Be on the look out for Conrod’s upcoming book.

What did you learn about yourself by asking someone to give you a sniff test?

WHY GODDY?

My best friend Darrell and his wife Renee welcomed into the world a beautiful baby boy named Justin in 2010. I was probably more excited than they were because Justin was going to be my little experiment with fatherhood. Darrell and I refer to alter egos as Pap, and we couldn’t wait to turn his first born into a baby Pap.

A few months after Justin’s birth, Darrell and Renee stopped by on their way downtown. He handed me a card, which I thought was a thank you card for the support my wife and I provided during and after the pregnancy. When I opened it up, to my surprise, it was a card asking us to be the godparents for the “little man”. I must say it was truly an honor and privilege to be given this important role in his life.

Justin, who is now three, and loves his Goddy, is an inquisitive one. Since we no longer live in the same city, we speak mostly on the phone or via Skype in between visits to see him. Since learning to speak, our conversations have pretty much followed the same format. They go a little something like this.

Conrod: Hi Justin

Justin: Hi Goddy (in the softest, cutest voice).

Conrod: How was your day?

Justin: Ok. What you doing Goddy?

Conrod: Driving home from work.

Justin: Work? Why work Goddy?

Conrod: So that I can take care of your aunt and me

Justin: Where are you going Goddy?

Conrod: I’m going home

Justin: Home? Why home god-daddy?

Conrod: So I get something to eat and rest for a little bit

Justin: Eat? Why eat Goddy?

Conrod: So that I grow strong and healthy like you.

Justin: Ok Goddy. Bye

Every time we have these types of conversations, I cannot get over his use of “Why?” to gain a deeper understanding for my actions, how actively he listens to my response, and how short our conversations tend to be.

Most, if not all, have accepted the fact that kids do, say, and ask the most amazing things, and that there is so much to be learned from them. As I think about the progress a child makes between the ages of 2 and 4 or any two-year period in childhood, and compare it to any two-year span in adulthood, I’m not sure how much progress we adults actually make if formal training or education is not involved. If anything, it seems as if we go backwards. The cornerstone of children’s advancement is deeply rooted in the types of questions they ask and how well they listen, understand, and internalize the responses to their questions.

In my experience in the corporate setting, I believe most questions are manipulative, serving only to persuade someone to adopt a certain point of view. In my opinion, questions in this setting should be used to engage others, make people think differently, or gain a deeper understanding of someone’s thoughts or feelings about a particular topic or situation. Justin’s use of “Why?” goes after values and meaning, which is at the core of who we are.

Take a moment to reflect on two questions Justin asked me.

Why [do we] go to work…?

Why [do we] eat…?

I was floored when I realized how simple, yet powerful, these two questions could be in helping solve two major issues in the US right now: obesity and joblessness. Ask yourself these two questions, and then as an experiment, pretend your answer is “I don’t know”. Open yourself up to the range of answers these two questions could produce for different individuals. Then imagine the new ideas or solutions for resolving these challenges buried within the spectrum of possible responses to these questions. How many technological advances may have been born out of someone asking others or themselves the right question and the response was “I don’t know”?

Who taught my three-year old godson how to ask questions?

Who taught children to ask questions that most adults do not readily know the answers to?

Why are they not afraid to ask tough questions?

Why do they instinctively ask so many questions?

If all children seem to demonstrate the same behavior, then maybe we were all born hardwired to ask questions and our experiences with family, the educational system, the work world, or simply people with authority, suppresses the gift we were all given to significantly enhance our learning ability.

I’ve heard people say, “I know you heard me, but did you hear me”. Equally as important as asking the right question is listening to what is being said. Some people are really good at asking questions, but they seem to struggle with listening to the answers. The reason listening is so important is because how something is being said adds value to what is being said and you can sometimes even discover what is not being said. Listening is the best friend of asking questions and together they form the foundation for learning. According to Robert Baden-Powell, “if you make listening and observation your occupation you will gain much more than you can by talking”.

I’ve always found the brevity of the conversations between Justin and I to be comical, while also being a serious reminder to never take someone’s time for granted. It’s almost as if he has an internal clock in his head that tells him he only has five minutes of my time. Or maybe, he is letting me know that I only have five minutes of his time before Ms. Nina or Thomas comes on the screen. Regardless, every time you ask a question or make a statement, you are taking up time. Therefore, it is important to be thoughtful of the questions you ask, diligent when listening to the response, and concise yet complete when making a statement.

I’m dedicating this post to Justin; also know as “little man.”

Share some examples of simple questions people have asked you that turned out to be profound. Tell us why.

Be on the look out for Conrod’s upcoming book.

I SEE SAID THE BLIND MAN TO HIS DEAF WIFE

Most people do not take the decision to purchase a new car lightly. Besides the shear cost of vehicles these days, the car buying process can be a daunting one given the plethora of models, packages, dealer add-ons, and financing options. Depending on how much work is done to prepare for the purchase, it can be a fun experience or a dreadful one.

My wife and I recently went through the process of purchasing a new car. We researched vehicles for almost a year before we decided on the make and model of the car we wanted. We walked into the dealership with a pre-negotiated price, our own financing, and a list of the upgrades we wanted. Given the timing of the purchase, the next year’s models had just hit the lot, but we thought there wouldn’t be any significant changes to the newer model, so we would stick with the current one. For the most part we were correct except for a new feature called the blind spot monitoring system.

The automaker offered two options in this system: a blind spot intervention (BSI) and a blind spot warning (BSW). Radar sensors on each side of the vehicle alert the driver when another car is in their blind spot by flashing an indicator light on both sides of the cabin. If a driver ignores the warning and tries to change lanes, the car will flash and beep at them. If the driver still attempts a lane change, the BSI will activate, applying the brakes to the opposite side of the car in an attempt to pull the vehicle back into its lane.

We debated for a while if this feature was a gimmick and if it was worth the money. I was taught to just look over my shoulders. The salesman overheard our conversation and added his two cents by letting us know that automakers are building cars with poor visibility, making it difficult for drivers to do the over-the-shoulder check before switching lanes. He went on to add that on test-drives most never check their blind spots. We ultimately decided not to purchase the package with the BSW and BSI, but it made me wonder.

What it would be like to have a blind spot warning or intervention system for people?

Do we have poor visibility?

Do we lack self-awareness?

How often do we check our blind spots before “switching lanes”?

Is looking over your shoulder even enough?

Do we ignore the clues that let us know that we are drifting?

Human blinds spots can be hard to find because they are often buried in denial. Denial is a refusal to believe in something or admit that something exists. There is also an inability to recognize or unwillingness to deal with the proverbial elephant in the room. Even when there are “indicators” or “beeps” telling you to get back into your lane, people still veer out of their lane, sometimes resulting in damage to themselves and others. This inability or unwillingness is often rooted in the sometimes-unpleasant nature of the truth and the perception that feedback is accusatory. Denial is a close relative of fear, which functions to protect the ego and requires a substantial investment of energy.

Redirecting that energy to search for your blind spots can be a difficult undertaking, but it can lead to a transcendent accomplishment. Identifying your own blind spots is an exercise in contradiction, because if you can see them, they are no longer blind to you. So how do you find your blind spots? Blind spots are repetitive experiences that make you question why something always happens to you. For example: you keep ending up in jobs you hate, you always have a terrible boss, you have “bad luck”, or people consistently perceive you differently than you see yourself.

If the evidence suggests that you have blind spots, you can try to eliminate them by first asking yourself why am I afraid to see what is really happening? Fear is the archenemy of acceptance, which allows you recognize and acknowledge what is actually happening.

While tackling your fears may lead to some meaningful insights, the more efficient approach may be soliciting feedback from others. I would recommend starting with someone closest to you and then branching out. Astonishingly, even relative strangers can be good resources for feedback. Even though I know how valuable honest feedback can be, I still have to force myself to ask for it. Any form of feedback is scary. But the kind that tackles your blind spots can be unbearable.

So while I passed on the BSI and BSW for my car, I would surely pay top dollar to have it for myself. What about you?

Be on the look out for Conrod’s upcoming book.