More street smart ideas to drive success

A man went to a rabbi and asked, “Rabbi, you’re a wise man, how is it that you’re wise?”
The rabbi replied, “Study and hard work.”

Then the man asked, “What made you study and work hard?”

The rabbi replied, “A lot of experience.”

Then the man asked, “And how’d you get a lot of experience?”

The rabbi answered, “I had good judgment.”
And the man then asked, “What gave you good judgment?”
The rabbi said, “A lot of bad experiences.”

Over the past few years I’ve written three columns on street smarts.  After all my years in business, I’m afraid I just scratched the surface.  Here are some more ideas:

Idea #1A plan isn’t a plan until you have a backup plan.  You may have made the best-laid plans, but what if something unexpected happens?  I can’t emphasize enough how important backup plans are.  You should always have a plan B and possibly plans C and D.  The bigger the deal or event, the more detailed your backup plans should be.

Next IdeaUse your network for referrals to save money.  More than once, I’ve been able to negotiate better deals by offering referrals.  The results can be even better than bartering.

For example, I was 29 years old and couldn’t afford to build a new envelope manufacturing plant.  But because I had a network, I was able to find a builder and guarantee I would get him other business.  I got him four other buildings, and he gave me a down and dirty price.  I did the same with my architect.  Talk about a win-win situation – and an excellent way to put your network to work.

Next IdeaFollow the fleet.  Starting out in sales can be tough.  When I began selling envelopes at age 21, I studied the phone book for leads for a week.  Then my dad suggested that I might try to ingratiate myself with one of the battle-scarred veterans of the envelope wars on the sales staff.

I did exactly that, and we drove to our arch-competitor’s plant.  We parked about 50 yards away from the shipping department and waited until one of its trucks began to pull out to make the day’s deliveries.  The rest of the day we followed that truck.  What leads we got!  What a treasure-trove of information!  What would you give to have your biggest competitor’s customer list?

Next Idea – Don’t forget people from your past.  My father taught me you must have a good memory.  What he meant by that is no one becomes successful on their own.  There are a lot of people who help you.  You never want to forget those people.


For example, I had a friend from kindergarten who went on to become a successful entrepreneur.  He gave me a lot of advice and counsel when I started my envelope manufacturing company.  I stayed in touch with him.  One day I picked up a newspaper and read that my friend had just become CEO of the largest retailer in the United States.  Is it any wonder that they became one of my largest envelope accounts?

Next Idea – There is a right way and a wrong way to lose a customer.  Let’s face it, everyone loses customers.  The trick is to position yourself to get that customer back some day in case their new supplier doesn’t perform.

Immediately schedule a one-on-one meeting with that customer.  Never do it by telephone or email or text.  Do it in person.  Tell them how much you have appreciated their business in the past and that you will move mountains so that it will be a seamless and smooth transition to their new supplier.  Also, tell them that you will always be ready to help out in any way whatsoever in the future.

Next Idea – Nothing motivates people like crisp, crunchy, crackly, cold, hard cash.  I have found there is no better way to reward people, including sales managers, entrepreneurs, project leaders and so on.

For many decades I used to hand out cash at our company sales meetings as a reward for attracting new accounts.  The place gets very hushed as I pull out all those crisp brand new $100 bills.   You should see those people.  They’re mesmerized.  In short, the results are stupendous.


Mackay’s Moral:  Let street smarts help you navigate the bumps in the road.

A great sense of humor makes great sense

We’ve all heard that “laughter is the best medicine.”  It makes people happy and links us together.  Humor and laughter strengthen our immune system, boost our energy by destroying boredom and keep stress at bay.

Humor is equally beneficial at work, as it increases creativity, enhances communications, builds morale and minimizes workplace conflicts and tension.  People who use humor are generally seen as more approachable.

Humor may also help your company stand out, even when managing and accepting failure.  Back a few years, JetBlue had a great opportunity to put out such a message to its employees in a way that embraced risk, admitted failure and kept a sense of humor.


According to a story in BusinessWeek titled “How failure breeds success,” JetBlue made a decision that seemed like it would have minimal impact on customer satisfaction.  But the company was about to find out otherwise.

Eric Brinker, JetBlue Airways Corp’s director of brand management and customer experience, decided to change the in-flight snack mix that it served passengers.  JetBlue had been trying to limit its in-flight snacks to reduce costs and to avoid complicating service on flights.  Brinker had also heard that some of JetBlue’s customers had been asking for healthier snacks on flights.

So Brinker and his team replaced the Doritos-based Munchie Mix that it served in flight.  Brinker thought the customers would welcome this move in response to their requests.

But something unexpected happened.  The junk-food junkies voiced their protest.

These guys wanted their Munchie Mix, says Brinker.  He started to get letters from customers saying things like the Munchie Mix was the only reason they flew with JetBlue in the first place.  Brinker realized he had been wrong and was going to have to reverse his previous decision.

So on a fun-loving note Brinker launched his own “Save the Munchie Mix” campaign.  “Some pinhead in marketing decided to get rid of the Munchie Mix!” he wrote.  He asked employees to write poems and stories about why the snack mix should stay.  He kept it fun.  He reacted intelligently in the face of failure.  It’s a lesson JetBlue employees aren’t likely to forget.

Humor can also help end arguments.  According to “Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes”, Orson Welles, the well-known film director, had a longstanding feud with production manager Jack Fier on the film, “The Lady from Shanghai.”  Welles had decided that a certain set in the movie needed repainting on a Saturday, in time for a shoot on the following Monday.  When Welles approached Fier about the matter, the director was told that getting the set painted in such short order was impossible.  Welles was determined, however, and over the weekend gathered a group of his friends who volunteered their painting services.  The group broke into the studio’s paint department and repainted the set themselves, leaving a huge sign that read:  “The only thing we have to fear is Fier himself.”

Monday brought a new set of issues, when the real set painters arrived and found that the work had been done by non-union labor.  They called a strike, and Fier was required to pay a large sum to each member to compensate for the work they lost.  In retribution, Fier deducted the money from Welles’ fee and had his own sign painted that read:  “All’s well that ends Welles.”

The two men, who had been bitter rivals, then called a truce and in time became good friends.

April is National Humor Month.  With that in mind, I think it would be a good idea to introduce a new category on formal performance reviews that says, “Can laugh at themselves.”  I’ve always found a sense of humor to be an important skill.  I am impressed by employees who can diffuse a difficult situation with a well-timed, respectful jest.  I cheer for people who can admit their failings with good humor.  I would be a gazillionaire if I could bottle the formula for helping people take themselves less seriously.

I subscribe to the words of one of America’s greatest wits, Mark Twain, “Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”  May we all be abundantly blessed.


Mackay’s Moral:  A good sense of humor helps to overlook the unbecoming, understand the unconventional, tolerate the unpleasant, overcome the unexpected and outlast the unbearable.

Take charge of your attitude

A mother was ready for a few minutes of relaxation after a long and demanding day.  However, her young daughter had other plans for her mother’s time.

“Read me a story, Mommy,” the little girl pleaded.  “Give Mommy a few minutes to relax.  Then I’ll be happy to read you a story,” the mother replied.

But the little girl was insistent that Mommy read to her now.  Hoping to buy a few precious minutes, the mother tore off the back page of the magazine she was reading.  It contained a full-page picture of the world.  She tore it into several pieces and told her daughter to put the picture back together, and then she would read her a story.

A short time later, the little girl announced the completion of her puzzle project.  To her astonishment, the mother found the world picture completely assembled.  When she asked her daughter how she managed to do it so quickly, the little girl explained that on the reverse side of the page was the picture of a little girl.  “You see, Mommy, when I got the little girl together, the whole world came together.”

HarveyAttitudeEach of us has the responsibility to put our world together. It starts by getting ourselves put together.  We can become better parents, friends, spouses, and employers.  The first step is adjusting our attitude.

Webster’s Dictionary defines attitude as a “mental position.”  Successful companies and employees take the position that change is positive and challenge is good.  They accept their environment and look for opportunities.

And opportunities are everywhere.  It just depends on your attitude.  Change can be difficult, or it can be exciting.  You get to decide, so make sure your attitude puts you in the winner’s circle.

Winners are positive and believe in themselves.  They are committed and don’t easily give up.  They take charge of their own attitude.  Don’t let it take charge of you.

There’s a terrific description of attitude in one of my all-time favorite books, “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill and Dennis Kimbro:  “Our attitudes set the stage for what will occur in our lives – good attitude, good results; fair attitude, fair results; poor attitude, poor results.  Each of us shapes his own life; and the shapes of our lives will be and are determined by our attitude“Your mental attitude is a two-way gate on the pathway of life.  It can be swung one way toward success, or the other way toward failure.”

Success and happiness depend as much on your attitude as on your resources and advantages.  To develop the right mindset, keep these precepts front and center:

  • Control.  Ultimately the only control you have in life is over yourself:  your thoughts, actions, responses and behaviors.  Don’t obsess over what you can’t control.  Concentrate on what you can.
  • Positivity.  Stop yourself when you feel negative thoughts taking over.  Instead, ask what’s the best or worst that can happen.  Then plan your response accordingly. Surround yourself with positive people, and see how quickly your own attitude changes.
  • Results.  It’s easy to fall into routines and patterns that emphasize the process instead of the outcome.  Learn the rules, but apply them with an eye on what you want to achieve.
  • Gratitude.  You’ll stay positive if you remind yourself of what you already possess.  Spend some time every day thinking about your health, your family and friends, and the advantages you have, instead of focusing single-mindedly on what you lack
  • Example.  Realize that you are setting an example for those around you.  Attitudes are contagious, and you will be a welcome carrier of this condition!

The good news is that anyone – absolutely anyone – can improve their attitude.  As so often happens, we can draw the greatest inspiration for attitude adjustments from those who seem to have the greatest obstacles to overcome.

El Capitan is a granite wall in California’s Yosemite National Park that shoots 3,700 feet (two-thirds of a mile) straight into the air.  Mark Wellman is the only paraplegic in the world to have climbed El Capitan.  It takes good rock climbers four days.  It took Mark nine days.

When Mark reached the top, journalists asked him how he did it.

Mark’s reply was, “I never thought of it as two-thirds of a mile.  I thought of it as 7,000 six-inch climbs.”

Consistency touches every area of life, business

Spring training for Major League Baseball players is all about practicing the right concepts and covering all likely baseball scenarios.  Once the skills are honed, what you hear from most managers, coaches and players is that they need to see consistency.

Sure, players might have a great spring and make the big leagues, but if they don’t consistently perform, they will be sent back to the minor leagues on the next bus.

Said one frustrated baseball player, “One night we play like King Kong, the next night like Fay Wray.”

Homerun slugger Hank Aaron summed it up:  “Consistency is what counts; you have to be able to do things over and over again.”

Former New York Yankee Manager Joe Torre said:  “Whatever your job is, consistency is the hallmark.  It’s much more important than doing something spectacular just once.  Do your job consistently and you will be considered good.”

Torre was talking about much more than baseball.  Life, like baseball, is all about consistency.  Consistency might sound downright boring, but it’s a critical element of success.

“Variety may be the spice of life, but consistency pays the bills,” observes Doug Cooper, author of “Outside In.”

Being consistent applies to all areas – school, work and family.  If you are raising children, you know all about being consistent.

If you are running a restaurant, you are very familiar with the importance of consistency.  Every food item must be served the same way every time.  Customers expect it.

I occasionally go to McDonald’s, not because they have the best hamburger, but because I know exactly what I’m going to get.  I don’t like surprises.

It’s the same with any brand.  When your audience sees and hears a consistent message from your brand, it reinforces your unique selling proposition in their minds.  By knowing what they can expect from your brand, and hearing it multiple times, they will begin to assign a higher value and trust in your business – and it shows that you take your business seriously.

HarveyConsistencyAre you aware of the three Cs of customer service?

  1. Consistency
  2. Consistency
  3. Consistency

It means providing predictable, reliable results to the customer or client every time they do business with you.

Employees should expect the same consistency as customers.  Employees should always know what is expected of them and how they will be treated.

“Success is neither magical nor mysterious.  Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals,” said the late Jim Rohn, a friend and crony of mine.

Big goals require three things:  a plan, commitment to carry out that plan and consistency.  Getting started is hard enough, but consistently carrying out your plan is more difficult.  Even the best business plans will fail without a dedication to consistency.

How many people started out the new year with plans to work out more, get in better shape and lose some weight?  Without consistency those resolutions go down the drain in weeks.

Say you set a goal to run a marathon as I did years ago and completed 10 of them.  You must organize a consistent practice schedule and be consistent in your workouts, rain or shine.  Missing a workout is like telling a lie, and the next lies come easier and easier.

Remember Aesop’s Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare.  A hare insulted a tortoise on account of his slowness, and vainly boasted of her own great speed in running.

“Let us make a match,” replied the tortoise.  “I will run with you five miles … and the fox yonder shall be the umpire of the race.”

The hare agreed, and away they both started together.  But the hare, because of exceeding swiftness, outran the tortoise to such a degree that she made a jest of the matter.  Finding herself a little tired, she lay down on a tuft of ferns that grew by the way, and took a nap.  She reasoned that, if the tortoise went by, she would know it and could with ease catch up and pass the tortoise to win the race.

However, when the tortoise came crawling by with slow but continued motion, the hare overslept and did not wake up, allowing the tortoise to win the race.

Are you a tortoise or a hare?  Keep your eye on the prize, and consistency will get you there.


Mackay’s Moral:  If you are persistent, you will get it.  If you are consistent, you will keep it.

Try brainstorming to remedy cloudy thinking

An electric utility in the northwestern U.S. had problems with ice building up on its power transmission lines during the winter.  The company had to send linesmen out to climb the pylons that held the lines to clear off the ice and snow.  It was difficult and dangerous work, especially as bears sometimes wandered close to the pylons as the linesmen were working.

One day a group of linesmen got together for a brainstorming session, hoping to find a better and safer way to clear away the ice.  One linesman mentioned that a bear had actually climbed a pylon after him once.  That led to a humorous suggestion of placing honey pots at the top of the pylons to attract the bears.  Then, as they tried to get to the honey, they would knock the snow and ice free.

Then an administrative assistant said, “But we’d need to use helicopters to place the pots at the top of the pylons, and the vibrations would frighten the bears and chase them away.”

Eureka!  The answer was right in front of them.  Soon afterward, the company began sending helicopters up into the air – without honey pots – and using the vibrations and wind created by their motors and rotors to knock the ice down.

A casual comment had solved the problem.  And that’s the beauty of brainstorming.

many small light bulbs equal big one

Brainstorming is defined as a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from an individual or all members of the group.

The term was popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in the 1953 book, “Applied Imagination.”  Osborn claimed that brainstorming was more effective than individuals working alone in generating ideas.

Brainstorming can be a powerful process for sparking creativity and stocking your supply of ideas.  It is like a password to open minds.  Brainstorming began when Osborn, who was presumably searching for an idea, decided to ask a few of his colleagues for input.  He set out five core principles upon which all brainstorming is built to this day.

1. Gather together a group of people into a room with plenty of easels and whiteboards.

2. Capture all ideas that come to mind, even if they sound crazy – especially if they sound crazy.

3. The more ideas, the better.  Your initial goal is quantity, not quality.

4. Do not apply critical thinking.  There’s no such thing as a bad idea – the evaluation process comes later.

5. All ideas belong to the group, so people should be encouraged to build on each other’s ideas.

These rules are probably very familiar to you; however, chances are you are even more familiar with the reality of most brainstorming sessions.  They can easily devolve into meaningless time traps if at least some semblance of organization isn’t present.

 If you haven’t come up with any good ideas lately, you might want to try different approaches to getting the creative juices flowing.  These are some of my favorite brainstorming techniques:

  • Swap problems.   Sometimes, the longer and harder you look for a solution, the more elusive it becomes.  A fresh set of eyes can make a big difference.   Have people write down their most difficult problem, and drop them all in a hat.  Then have everyone pick a problem from the hat and try to solve it.  Encourage people from different areas to get together and learn something about each another’s problems and skills.  This activity can kick start ideas and approaches that go far beyond the usual thinking.
  • Form a dream team.  Collect a small group of people to meet once a week.  Emphasize that each person has been invited for a reason.  Include creative types as well as technical experts, and at least a couple of people who are unfamiliar with the problem.  Limit attendance so everyone gets a chance to contribute.  Their only job is to generate, share, and discuss ideas for innovation.
  • Keep an open mind.  Don’t set limits on what kinds of ideas are acceptable.  If you’re leading, be careful not to dominate the session.  Halfway through the session, vote on the ideas.  Throw out the bad ones and seek ways to improve the good ones.
  • Look for bad ideas.  Hold a “dump the ideas” meeting with colleagues.  One topic: “What should we stop doing so we have more time and energy for innovation?”  This may seem like a reverse approach, but it can be incredibly useful.   Eliminating the clutter makes room for fresh approaches.


Mackay’s Moral:  Great brainstorms should produce plenty of en-lightning!