I’ll never forget what’s-his-name

A man had gone to a circus as a small boy and decided to return years later.  He was sitting in a cheap seat when an elephant came along, reached up into the stands, wrapped his trunk gently about the man and carried him over to the best seat.

The man turned to his neighbor and said, “That elephant remembered the last time I was here years ago.  I fed him peanuts.”  Just then the elephant came back, lifted his trunk, pointed it straight at the man and blew a stream of water in his face.  “I forgot I gave them to him still in the bag,” the man added.

MemoryThis is a classic story about memory, or what I call that thing I forget with.  But memory is no laughing matter.  It’s serious stuff and can help you a great deal in business and in life.

If you read this column on a regular basis, you are familiar with one of my important lessons – “Pale ink is better than the most retentive memory.”  In other words, write things down.

I have many coaches, including a memory coach.  His name is Benjamin Levy.  He’s been profiled in “Fortune Magazine” and many other media outlets.  He’s one of the best memory experts around.  He’s even performed at the White House for President Obama and friends.

I’ve seen Benjamin meet more than 100 people at a dinner party and be able to say goodbye to each person by name.  How does he do it?  He says we just need to “wake up our brain,” tell it to pay attention and not just let new information slide past.  Here are a few of his techniques:

First is by the power of association.  For me, if I meet someone named Neil, I immediately think of all the Neils I can recall – Neil Armstrong, Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Neil Patrick Harris and so on.

In Benjamin’s case, he uses the acronym “A NOVEL” to enhance the mental images he makes that help him remember names and other things.  “A” stands for active pictures or an action movie.  For example, if you meet a woman named Fern, he would imagine throwing ferns at her or her throwing a fern.  Things are more memorable with action.

“N” is for new.  You want a new image, one you haven’t seen before.  You need something exceptional.  “O” is for obscene.  “The big dirty secret of memory training is a tremendous percentage of it is having obscene and sexual thoughts in your head,” Benjamin said.  “The more you make images interesting and memorable, the better you’ll remember them.”

“V” is for violent.  The more stuff you have going on the better – a broken window, bleeding and so on.  “E” is for emotional.  “When you make your visual pictures, if people are having emotions or feeling emotions, your images are more memorable,” Benjamin said.

Finally “L” is for ludicrous.  Try to make it really ludicrous or funny in some way.  Benjamin explains:  “So for instance, if I meet a woman named Karen, for me Karen is always carrots.  Will I somehow connect a carrot to the woman named Karen?  No, I will visualize a giant carrot connected to Karen, or I will picture hundreds or thousands of carrots connected to her.  More ludicrous.”

Benjamin adds one other ingredient – color.  Make your images as colorful as you can.

He also uses a lot of metaphors.  “Memory work is about transformation, transforming one thing into another, to create the most powerful and memorable mental image possible,” Benjamin said.  For example, when Benjamin spoke to our group, there were three Bills in the audience.  If you transform Bill into something you can see, he turns Bill into ball or bowling ball, which makes for a solid memory.

In memory training you are constantly associating or linking or connecting one thought with another.  This quadruples your retention.  As Benjamin says, “You have to give the brain the material the way it wants it.”

If you remember one thing from this column, it should be the title of Benjamin’s book, “Remember Every Name Every Time.”  I’ve only scratched the surface of his valuable advice.  He shares a variety of practical techniques that have worked for me, such as rhythm and repetition.

We may not all be blessed with Benjamin’s gifts, but he’s given us a remarkable present:  memory techniques that we can all use.


Mackay’s Moral:  Don’t just make memories – make your memory work for you!

Slow and steady wins the day

You might have heard the saying:  If you are persistent you will get it.  If you are consistent you will keep it.

This statement describes professional golfer Jordan Spieth to a tee.  Spieth was the defending champion of the Master’s Golf Tournament.  He led this year’s tournament for the first three rounds and had a five-stroke lead going into the final nine holes. Then things began to fall apart.  He proceeded to bogey two straight holes and then had a disastrous quadruple bogey on the 12th hole from which he never recovered, losing the tournament to Danny Willett.

Spieth was anything but consistent.  For the tournament he made 22 birdies, but he also had 10 bogeys, three double bogeys and the infamous quadruple bogey.  Willett was less volatile with his scores.  He made only 15 birdies and eight bogeys during the tournament.  But more important, five of his birdies came during the final round and no bogeys.  In short, Willett was more consistent, which is why he won the tournament.

consistencyEveryone wants consistency, whether it refers to running a business, investing, supervising employees, dieting, exercising or parenting.  Consistency develops routines and builds momentum.  It forms habits that become almost second nature to you.

For example, think about one of your goals.  It requires consistent effort to push toward that goal.  If you are not consistently focused on achieving it, you will likely fall back into old habits or lose interest.  Being consistent is the difference between failure and success, as evidenced by these three motivational superstars:

The late Jim Rohn, entrepreneur and author, said:  “Success is neither magical nor mysterious.  Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.”

Leadership guru John Maxwell said:  “Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.”

Consistency wins.  Look no further than the fable about the hare and the tortoise.  The rabbit shot out to a huge lead and then laid down for a nap while the turtle kept a slow, consistent pace and won the race.

Consistency is especially important in business.  Restaurants, for example, must be consistent because customers come in expecting the same good food all the time.  If they slip up even one day, they lose customers.  Consistency establishes reputations.

In any business, customers expect the same standards.  The last thing people want is to be surprised.  They want predictability.  Let’s face it; we live in an unpredictable world.  When people get what they want, they are happy and will return.

Consistency in the workplace is also extremely important.  Managers and leaders must be consistent in their behavior and attitude.  This sets a good example for employees and eases concerns.  If bosses are inconsistent it can waste valuable time for both employees and customers.  That’s why trust is built upon the foundation of consistency.

Even the most committed employees become bored doing routine work.  It’s hard for a leader to inspire people to do these tasks well; it’s even harder to create a sense that this drudgery is important to the organization’s larger goals.  This is true even in exciting vocations like firefighting.  Battalion Chief John Salka of the Fire Department of New York City suggests some interesting solutions in his book “First In, Last Out.”

One of the dull parts of a firefighter’s life is inspecting buildings for fire code violations. Most firefighters join the department for the high-risk activity of fighting fires; however, inspections and paperwork seem miles from where their enthusiasm lies.

Salka accompanies his crews on their inspections to encourage them to take this low-risk activity very seriously.  Throughout the inspection, Salka pulls his crew aside and asks them how they would approach the building if it were on fire right then, with questions like “How would you react if this door – see the broken hinge – jammed, blocking the exit?  How would that fuel oil spill on the basement floor affect your actions?”

Soon the firefighters are taking the inspection as seriously as if it were a real fire.  After all, the problems they miss in an inspection may come back to “burn” them if a fire starts.  The people you lead do better in real-life situations when you show them the significance of even dull tasks.


Mackay’s Moral:  Don’t be resistant to being consistent.

Volunteerism: You often receive more than you give

Years ago, my father sat me down and gave me what was some of the best advice I have ever received.  It had nothing to do with making money but everything to do with getting ahead in the world.  It was self-help advice that really focused on helping others.

He told me I would never have any trouble finding opportunities.  And he told me that 20-25 percent of my time should be devoted to this pursuit.

“Volunteer,” he said.  Not exactly music to the ears of a broke, fresh out of college, aspiring millionaire.  But as I have come to appreciate, he was dead-on right – AGAIN.

Volunteering has made my life so much better, and I suspect that anyone who has become passionate about a cause will tell you the same thing.


People who do volunteer work and help others on a regular basis have a healthier outlook on life.  They are inclined to be go-getters and consistently report being happier and more contented.

It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, student or professional, working your way up or at the top of your game.  Needs abound wherever you are.

I love Mother Teresa’s quote which says it all:  “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

Let me give you a few examples.  Bridget is a full-time college student.  She works part-time too.  She was feeling like she had a full plate until a professor asked for a few volunteers to help tutor elementary school students who were struggling.  She figured she could spare two hours a week, and guess what?  The former “undecided” major is finishing an education degree and preparing to student teach.  Volunteering helped her discover her passion, while she was helping little kids discover their abilities.

My pal George was looking toward retirement, knowing he couldn’t play golf seven days a week.  He had built a great company, overcoming plenty of obstacles along the way.  He was a trusted mentor to dozens of young entrepreneurs.  He had been very active in his community and cared about the people there.  He got involved in the development of the local history center, and even agreed to be the volunteer director.  He’s busier now than ever before.  I have to schedule our golf games at least a month in advance!  The community is benefitting tremendously from his leadership, but he says he’s really the one reaping the rewards.

If you still think you are too busy to share some time, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you looking for an opportunity to help?  Sharing your talents doesn’t diminish them, it often enhances them.
  • Are you interested in learning a new skill?  Every organization has a job or two that no one really wants to do – so take on that chore!  You will learn something new, but more importantly, you will discover that you can do all kinds of things you never thought you could.  What job is usually the hardest to fill?  Fundraising.  You’ll hone your sales skills while you help a worthy cause.
  • Do you like to meet new people?  Volunteering offers the chance to make some new contacts and develop some great friendships.
  • Do you need to sharpen your skills?  You can learn how to run a meeting, prepare reports, serve on committees, supervise others, and a thousand other skills that you may not be able to learn in your occupation.
  • Are you in a rut, in need of a fresh perspective?  You will see a whole new view of the world when you step into an organization that is struggling to help those who need it most.
  • Are you ready to have some fun?  No one said helping others had to be drudgery.  Helping clean up a park, planning a community celebration or calling bingo at the senior center can be a great change of pace from a desk job.
  • Do you want to make a difference?  Volunteer at a place that is desperate for help.  You could be the one person who really can make all the difference.

And please remember, volunteering is a privilege.  If you think doing good deeds will make you look like a hero, think again.  Approach volunteer work as a chance to be useful, and be grateful that someone thinks you are up to that task.


Mackay’s Moral:  Don’t just make a living, make a life worth living.

Life lessons from the baseball diamond

Ah, the joys of spring:  longer daylight, budding flowers, farm babies, and, of course, opening day of our national pastime, baseball.  What a thrill to go to the game and “root, root, root for the home team.”

I’ve found a day at the ballpark can also be very educational.  In the game of life, baseball teaches us a lot of lessons.  Here are a few classics:

Know what business you’re in.  Minnesota Twins Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew once recalled playing in the yard with his father and brother.  While the three were roughhousing, Mrs. Killebrew rushed toward them exclaiming, “You’re tearing up the grass!”

“We’re not raising grass,” Mr. Killebrew replied. “We’re raising boys!”

Don’t assume it’s as easy as 1-2-3.  A brand-new Little League baseball coach called a friend for advice.  The friend, who had coached everything from soccer to track with his kids, told him, “I always started by numbering the bases.”

The new coach was surprised.  “What do you mean?”

The friend explained that the first year he coached Little League, he laid out the bases and had the kids line up.  “To warm up, let’s have everybody jog around the bases,” he said.  And the first four kids took off toward third.

“Ever since,” he said, “I’ve numbered the bases and explained that you have to run them in order.  You’d be amazed at the number of kids who go from first to third by cutting across the pitcher’s mound.”

Never assume people know what’s obvious to you.  Explain what they need to know.

tedwilliamsReputation is precious – character is priceless.  The great Boston Red Sox star Ted Williams was nearing the end of his career when he had a bad season due to a pinched nerve in his neck.  He said he could hardly turn his head to look at the pitcher.  For the first time in his career, Williams batted under .300.  At the time he was the highest salaried player in sports, making $125,000.  The next year the Red Sox offered him a new contract for the same salary.

When he received the contract, Williams sent it back with a note saying that he would not sign it until they gave him the full pay cut allowed.  Williams said:  “I was always treated fairly by the Red Sox … Now they were offering me a contract I didn’t deserve.  And I only wanted what I deserved.”

Williams cut his own salary by 25 percent, raised his batting average by 62 points and closed out a brilliant career by hitting a home run in his final at bat.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Mickey Mantle, the great New York Yankee outfielder, once said:  “During my 18 years I came to bat almost 10,000 times.  I struck out about 1,700 times and walked maybe 1,900 times.  You figure a ball player will average about 500 at bats a season.  That means I played the equivalent of seven years without ever hitting the ball.”

Since Mantle is regarded as one of the greatest hitters of all time, his statistics provide some perspective about the failures and mistakes that life hands us from time to time.

Don’t be too quick to offer unsolicited advice.  Sometimes it’s better to wait for people to ask for help or to be judicious in doling out wisdom.

One afternoon when American League baseball umpire Bill Guthrie was working behind the plate, the catcher of the visiting team repeatedly protested his calls.  Guthrie endured this for three innings.  But in the fourth inning when the catcher started to complain again, Guthrie stopped him.

“Son,” he said gently, “you’ve been a big help to me calling balls and strikes, and I appreciate it.  But I think I’ve got the hang of it now.  So I’m going to ask you to go to the clubhouse and show them how to take a shower.”

Always remain optimistic.  Not long ago I stopped by a local playground to watch a Little League baseball game.  I asked one of the youngsters what the score was.

“We’re behind 16 to nothing,” he answered.

“I must say, you don’t seem discouraged,” I said.  “Why is that?”

“Discouraged?” said the boy, “why should we be discouraged?   We haven’t even been up to bat yet.”


Mackay’s Moral:  If you want to swing for the fences, you have to learn the rules of the game.

A sense of humor is no joke

There is an Apache legend that the creator gave human beings the ability to talk and to run, and to look at things.  But in addition, the legend says he was not satisfied until he also gave them the ability to laugh.  After giving humans the ability to laugh, the creator said, “Now you are fit to live.”

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

“A sense of humor is the one thing no one will admit not having,” said none other than Mark Twain.

Life is too short to be serious all the time.  How dull our existence would be without the potential to see the lighter side of situations.  And how hopeless, too!  Humor often represents hope, that the worst is behind us and better things are coming.

happy corporate2

True, not all things are funny.  Knowing how and when to apply a filter is critical.  And it’s usually better when the joke is on you, so your obvious amusement signals permission to see the humor in a situation.

“If I were given the opportunity to present a gift to the next generation, it would be the ability for each individual to learn to laugh at himself,” said Charles Schulz, creator of the long-running “Peanuts” comic strip.

April is National Humor Month.  I would propose that we celebrate humor every single month, all year long.  I can’t imagine a day without humor.

I value a sense of humor very highly when I am hiring people, especially for sales and customer service jobs.  My employees know I love a good laugh.  For years I started every sales meeting with a funny story or joke and asked other managers to do the same.  I wasn’t looking for the next Tina Fey or Jimmy Fallon.  I just wanted to loosen up the group and put them in a good mood.

The same attitude is important for anyone who comes into contact with customers.  If you’ve ever flown on a Southwest Airlines flight, you might have heard the safety instructions delivered in a variety of amusing ways.  The message is quite serious, but their approach serves a number of purposes:  encouraging people to actually listen to what’s being said, putting passengers in a more relaxed mood after the stress of airport hassles, and letting folks know that the flight attendants are enjoying their work and want you to enjoy your trip.

Did you watch the Super Bowl?  Or more specifically, did you watch the commercials?  At a cool $5 million for a 30-second spot, the price tag is enough to make a business cry.  But year in and year out, the ads command almost as much attention as the game itself – because they make people laugh.  And then talk about them the next day.  And buy those products.  Beer isn’t inherently funny, nor are tortilla chips or car insurance, but somehow humor makes those items more memorable.

Some of the funniest people I know are also among the quietest.  You have to listen closely to what they say, because the quips sneak out when you least expect them.  For example, a woman approached President Calvin Coolidge, aptly nicknamed “Silent Cal,” at a dinner and said, “Mr. President, I have a bet with my friend that I can get you to say more than two words.”  Coolidge replied, “You lose!”

You may think you have to be born funny, but I disagree.  Finding the humor in everyday life is easy if you just look for it.  People who take themselves too seriously are a constant source of amusement for me.  Take this young job-seeker, for example:

At the end of a job interview, the human resources person asked a young engineer fresh out of a top university, “And what starting salary were you looking for?”

The engineer said optimistically, “In the neighborhood of $125,000 a year, depending on the benefits package.”

The interviewer said, “Well, what would you say to a package of five-weeks vacation, 14 paid holidays, full medical and dental, company matching retirement fund to 50 percent of salary, and a company car leased every two years, say, a red Corvette?”

The engineer sat up straight and said, “Wow!  Are you kidding?”

And the interviewer replied, “Yeah, but you started it.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Life isn’t always funny, but a sense of humor always helps.