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)



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


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.