Don’t worry about it!

I recently received a cartoon from a friend that showed a psychiatrist having a session with her patient.  She says, “You worry too much … It doesn’t do any good …”  And the patient answers, “It does for me …  95% of the things I worry about never happen!”

Several years ago I saw a survey that says 40 percent of the things we worry about never happen, 30 percent are in the past and can’t be helped, 12 percent concern the affairs of others that aren’t our business, 10 percent are about sickness – either real or imagined – and 8 percent are worth worrying about.  I would submit that even the 8 percent aren’t really worth the energy of worry.

I wrote a column about the Second Ten Commandments in 2009 and guess what was number one:  “Thou shall not worry, for worry is the most unproductive of all human activities.”  You can’t saw sawdust.  A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.  People get so busy worrying about yesterday or tomorrow, they forget about today.  And today is what you have to work with.

Robert Leahy, author of The Worry Cure, says people worry for a variety of reasons, but one big reason is that worriers are intolerant of uncertainty.  Leahy says worriers believe that they are being responsible by worrying because they believe they are preparing to avoid something bad.  They think that by worrying they are taking control of their lives.  But in fact, the reverse is true.  Too much worrying causes people to lose control, and only builds their anxiety.

worry1Worriers believe that they need to know what the outcome will be – or there could be some kind of catastrophe awaiting them.  Leahy says that worriers almost always overestimate the negative outcome.

At the same time, they underestimate their ability to handle what does happen. He further reminds us that worriers often forget that their worries in the past have mostly turned out to be futile.

I can attest to that finding.  Instead of worrying about bad outcomes, I have adopted a different strategy.  When I am faced with a big business decision or challenge, I ask my team to think about two things:  What are we trying to accomplish, and what is the worst thing that can happen?  We plan for the best, but we also prepare for the worst.  That way, we avoid most surprises by anticipating disappointment.

Perhaps we would be wise to take some advice from folks who have been around long enough to have mountains of problems to worry about – and yet, their longevity is credited largely to the right attitude.

Researchers at the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine questioned 243 people age 100 and older.  They found that centenarians tend to share certain personality traits, in addition to other factors, like genetics.  In general, those traits included:

  • Outgoing
  • Positive-minded about other people
  • Full of laughter
  • Open with their emotions
  • Conscientious and disciplined
  • Unlikely to obsess about anxieties or guilt

The scientists did point out that these characteristics don’t necessarily represent the reason for the long life spans.  But they did notice that in many cases the personality traits they observed weren’t necessarily lifelong tendencies, but behaviors their subjects learned as they grew older.

Focusing on the positives and not worrying about the negatives may have a favorable impact on overall life expectancy.  So maybe it is never too late to adjust your thinking.  And please, don’t worry if that change doesn’t happen overnight.  Old habits die hard.

The true futility of worrying about things reminds me of the story about Herbie, who worries all the time.  He worries so much he can’t sleep. He paces in the bedroom all night.  His wife wakes up and asks him what’s on his mind.

“I can’t pay the rent,” he says.

She says, “We’ll talk about it tomorrow.  Go back to sleep.”

He tries to go back to sleep, but he just keeps tossing and turning and soon he’s up pacing again.

Suddenly his wife picks up the phone and dials the landlord.  “Hello,” she says.  “Herbie can’t pay the rent this month.”  And she hangs up.

Herbie says, “What did you do that for?”

“Let them worry all night about the rent,” she says.

Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday.

 

Mackay’s Moral:  Worrying casts a dark shadow that blocks any glimmer of hope.

Take a vacation from your vocation

Have you ever had one of those days when all you could think was, “Gosh, do I need a vacation.”

Of course you have – because all work and no play aren’t good for anyone.  A vacation doesn’t have to be two weeks on a tropical island, or even a long weekend at the beach.  A vacation just means taking a break from your everyday activities.  A change of pace.  It doesn’t matter where.

Everyone needs a vacation to rejuvenate mentally and physically.  But did you also know that you can help boost our economy by taking some days off?  Call it your personal stimulus package.

An analysis by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association found that more than 40 percent of U.S. workers don’t take their full allotment of paid time off (PTO) during the year, representing an average of 3.2 unused vacation days per worker in 2013—a total of 429 million work days!

Aside from the risk of exhaustion and career burnout, unused vacation days have a negative impact on the U.S. economy as a whole.  The study estimated that if employees took full advantage of their PTO days, the economy would enjoy the benefits of more than $160 billion in sales and $21 billion in tax revenues, as well as supporting 21 million jobs in areas like retail, transportation and manufacturing.  Workers taking just a single additional day off would boost spending by $73 billion.

So go ahead and take some vacation. It’s your patriotic duty.

And please, don’t try the old excuse that you can’t take time off – your esteemed presence is required at all times.  No one is indispensable.  No one.  The place may not function as smoothly without you, but chances are the doors won’t close, and you won’t lose all your customers.

zigziglar1My friend, the late Zig Ziglar, had an interesting take on productivity and vacations: “Isn’t it amazing how much stuff we get done the day before vacation? “ So let that be motivation:  getting lots of work done in anticipation of being out of the office.

Summer is traditionally a great time for a vacation.  Have you planned some time off yet?

You can detach from the workplace without worry and enjoy the break you deserve if you follow these simple steps before you leave:

  • Notify co-workers and clients.  Let bosses, customers, and colleagues know you’ll be on vacation at least a week – if not sooner – before you take off.  Let people know how long you’ll be out of the office, when you’ll be returning, and who they should contact in the meantime.  Set an auto-reply on your email, and leave the same information on your voice mail.
  • Prepare your co-workers.  Talk to the people who will handle questions or problems while you’re away.  Help them troubleshoot by providing pertinent information like the status of current projects, names of possible callers, and reasons they might call.
  • Straighten up.  There’s nothing as unmotivating as coming back from a great vacation to a workspace in complete disarray.  Make the transition easier by cleaning up before you leave.
  • Get your mind in gear.   If you are not accustomed to taking time off, you may have forgotten how to disconnect.  It typically takes two to three days to get into vacation mode.  A friend usually downloads a photo of his destination for his screensaver a couple weeks before vacation.  It reminds him to enjoy the rewards for his hard work.
  • Turn off your electronics, and explain that you will be available for no more than 15 minutes a day unless the place is on fire.  Our smartphone world has created an army of work zombies.  The temptation to work is too great when you can just tap your phone. Don’t let technology ruin your break … or your life.
  • Trust the people you work with to carry on.   You might be pleasantly surprised at what gets accomplished in your absence.

And if getting away from the office is absolutely impossible, try what the Business School of Happiness calls “The One Minute Vacation.”  When time and money prevent taking a physical vacation, “The same relaxing benefits of taking a vacation can be found in minutes of simple meditation interspersed throughout the day.  In fact, three one minute sessions of deep breathing – taken at pre-set intervals throughout the day may indeed deliver the deep sense of peacefulness that might have seemed elusive.”

 

Mackay’s Moral:   Vacations aren’t luxuries, they’re necessities. 

Get results when you complain

Once the famous Chicago merchant Marshall Field was walking through his Chicago store and heard one of his clerks arguing with a customer.

“What are you doing?” he asked the clerk.

“I’m settling a customer complaint,” said the clerk.

“No, you’re not,” said Field. “Give the customer what she wants.”

Is the customer always right?  If you are a business owner, the answer most always is yes.

Otherwise, they aren’t customers.  They are people who do business with someone else.

Years ago I saw a study for Travelers Insurance that showed persuading people to complain could be, in fact, the best business move a company could make.  Only 9 percent of the noncomplainers with a gripe involving $100 or more would buy from the company again.  On the other hand, when people did complain and their problems were resolved quickly, an impressive 82 percent would buy again.

I have a philosophy about customers – ours or anyone else’s.  A customer who has a good experience with a company will tell five other people.  But a customer who has a bad
experience will tell 15 other people, and with social media today it can become tens of thousands.  So anything I can do to decrease the bad while increasing the good is right at the top of my agenda.

Part of that philosophy assumes that you will get a second chance.  If you get that chance, don’t mess it up.  You may be looking at the best customer you’ve ever imagined.

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Customers can also be your best teachers.  True, you often learn a lesson the hard way.  But it’s an education in Customer Service 101 that you won’t learn in any school.

Stew Leonard, founder of a famous chain of supermarkets in Connecticut and New York, said:  “Customers who complain are your friends because they are giving you a chance to improve instead of just walking away.”

No one likes to hear that they have done a lousy job, but criticism from customers is more valuable than praise.  You want your customers to tell you when you screwed up, so that you can take care of the problem and take steps to insure that it doesn’t happen again – to them or anyone else.  If they don’t tell you, they will walk away and they’ll never come back.  Worse, you are likely to alienate someone else in the future by doing exactly the same thing.

To paraphrase a famous line, ask not what your customer can do for you, ask what you can do for your customer.

Now put the shoe on the other foot.  Think like a customer.  Stop to consider whether your own customers are receiving fair treatment.

When you have a complaint, you want it addressed quickly and fairly.  When you approach the problem from the customer’s side, the view is quite different.

As consumers ourselves, we should be able to expect a satisfactory result.  When you don’t get what you paid for, agree to, contract for, or reasonably should expect, you should look for a resolution to the problem.  And you should give the vendor the opportunity to fix it.  Isn’t that what you would want your customers to do?  Remember, most reputable companies want to make the customer happy.

I recommend following these steps:

  • Determine the solution you want.  Do you want a replacement, your money back, or some other remedy?  Be specific so you can convey from the start that you expect a resolution to the problem.
  • Start in the right place.  Don’t go to the CEO of the company until you’ve exhausted the lower rungs.  Customer service is usually the best place to start.  If customer service can’t help you, ask to speak with a manager next.
  • Target where to take your complaint next.  Don’t just call headquarters and voice your complaint to the receptionist.  Find out who has the authority to address your complaint.
  • Control your emotions.  When you’re overwhelmed with frustration, vent your anger in a letter – but wait a few days to decide whether to send or rewrite it.  Humorous complaint letters are more likely to get noticed and acted upon.  Also, remember to single out those employees who tried to help.  Praise can be just as effective as criticism.
  • Keep copies of all correspondence.  A good record of your attempts to resolve the problem can be helpful if you ultimately need to take legal action.

 

Mackay’s Moral:  If a business knows what’s good for it, it knows what’s good for a customer

Persistence pays off

In 1935, Charles Darrow brought his board game invention to Parker Brothers.  The experts at Parker Brothers rejected the game, Monopoly, for “containing fifty-two fundamental errors.”

The persistent Charles Darrow had spent the year after his rejection demonstrating the potential success of the game by selling numerous editions of the board game himself.  Ironically, in 1936, Darrow was well-received by the embarrassed Parker Brothers, which eventually helped make the unemployed heating engineer from Germantown, Pennsylvania, a multi-millionaire.

Since that time, over 100 million copies of Monopoly have been sold in 31 countries.  Each year Parker Brother prints more than $40 billion worth of Monopoly money – more than twice the amount printed annually by the U.S. Mint.  Monopoly’s success has produced 3.2 billion of those little green houses, enough to circle the globe.

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Charles Darrow was hardly the first or last person who showed persistence and had a strong belief in his product.  Many famous Americans have packed up their product and sold it out of the trunk of their car.

Phil Knight, founder of Nike, sold his first shoes from the trunk of his green Plymouth Valiant.  Curt Carlson, founder of Carlson, owner of the world’s largest travel company, Radisson Hotels and TGI Fridays restaurants, sold his first Gold Bond trading stamps out of his car.

Wayne Dyer wrote his first book, “Your Erroneous Zones” in 1976.  He told me that when his publisher didn’t want to promote the book, he felt so strongly that he decided to sell it himself.  Dyer purchased the remaining copies and drove from New York to California, stopping at bookstores along the way and sleeping in the car.  He also did as much media as he could.  One night while doing a 2 a.m. radio interview, one of the listeners was Johnny Carson.  He booked Dyer on “The Tonight Show,” and the rest is history.  Dyer has since sold more than 35 million copies of “Your Erroneous Zones” and written over 30 other books.

Few people had as difficult a time getting their invention accepted as Alexander Graham Bell.  Even U.S. President Rutherford Hayes said of the telephone in 1876, “… who would ever want to use them?”

Chester Carlson, another young inventor, took his idea to 20 big corporations in the 1940s.  After seven years of rejections, he was able to persuade Haloid, a small Rochester, New York company, to purchase the rights to his electrostatic paper- copying process.  Haloid has since become Xerox Corporation.

Bette Nesmith Graham, in the 1950s, began using white, water-based tempera paint and a thin paintbrush to cover her typing errors.  She sold her first bottle, originally called Mistake Out, in 1956.  Graham later patented the office product.  After starting out with just 100 bottles a month in sales, Liquid Paper was selling 25 million bottles a year when Graham sold it for a reported $47.5 million in 1979.

In 1927 the head instructor of the John Murray Anderson Drama School, instructed student Lucille Ball, to “Try any other profession.  Any other.”  I wonder what would have made him say “I Love Lucy”?

Buddy Holly was fired from the Decca record label in 1956 by Paul Cohen, who was known as Nashville’s “artists and repertoire man.”  Cohen called Holly “the biggest no-talent I ever worked with.”

Chuck Yeager, the famous test pilot, threw up all over the back seat on his first flight as a passenger.  He vowed never to go back up again, but eventually he reconsidered.  Then he became the first man to break the sound barrier.

These are all examples of ordinary people with extraordinary persistence.  None of these folks was famous or rich or even particularly successful before their big breaks.

We’ve all heard it before, but there really is no substitute for persistence.  In fact, persistence is sometimes as important as talent.  It must come from within.  You either want it or you don’t.  Giving up is not an option.

I remember when I was first starting out and asking a colleague I respected how many sales calls he would make on a prospect before giving up.  He told me, “It depends on which one of us dies first.”

Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”

Don’t be discouraged.  It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.
Mackay’s Moral:  A flower has to push through a lot of dirt before it can blossom.

Sharing knowledge leads to better decisions

Do you have a tough decision to make?  Or are you trying to build consensus among other employees?  If so, you might want to follow the way bees make their decisions, because according to researchers, human beings can learn volumes from bees when it comes to making group decisions.

Cornell University biologist Thomas Seely, in a Cornell Chronicle Online story by Susan S. Lang, explains how bees build coalitions until a quorum develops.  Seely says bees rely on disagreement and contest, whereas humans often rely on consensus and compromise.

Researchers know the bees make excellent decisions because they set up situations that offered choices to the bees, some superior for bees and others not so great.  The bees almost always chose the superior sites.

A swarm of perhaps 10,000 honeybees decides where their next new home is going to be by sending out a few hundred scouts to look at real estate.  If one finds a site it likes a lot, it begins dancing, which is the scout’s way of advertising the site to other scouts.  Then the scout will revisit the site frequently and dance all day.

Other scouts select other sites and advertise those to other uncommitted scouts as well.  Bee scouts build up at the best sites quickly, because they grade the level of recruitment, which is directly linked to site quality.  When 15 or more scouts have gathered around a particular site, the scouts then signal home to the others to get ready to fly to the new home.

So what should humans learn from the bee dance?  For starters, that frank discussions and disagreements coupled with some friendly competition might just help human committees achieve a little collective intelligence and avoid collective folly, researchers say.

Information hoarding is counterproductive in any organization.  Knowledge sharing is central to companies’ success, and generally encouraged by management.  But often, employees are reluctant to give up what may be their best bargaining chip – some particular piece of information or expertise – and thereby maintain job security.

Or perhaps there is an element of revenge or payback, trying to get even with the company or other employees that they feel may have wronged them.

In any event, the end result is lost productivity and mistrust.  How do you know this is happening?  Your colleagues refuse to help, blaming the boss for not wanting the information to come out.  Or they ignore you completely.  The situation becomes toxic when the organizational culture promotes secrecy.

DecisionMaking1Managers need to encourage knowledge sharing if they want their companies to be successful.  They must promote positive relationships among employees, making sure employees understand the benefits to everyone in the organization.  Fair and respectful treatment of all employees is critical, because employees sense when management plays favorites and suddenly the atmosphere goes from cooperation to competition.

In short, management should not underestimate the importance of giving employees a real sense of ownership in the organization.

To help feel actively committed to success, management strategy should be based on the acronym STALL:

  • S: Share information.  Financial information is crucial, of course.  But operational information is just as vital.  Employees should understand how one person’s work affects others in the organization – the domino effect.  Other information to share:  strategies, successes (especially employee success stories), setbacks, and internal and external pressures.
  • T: Teach.  Employees may not be aware of everything they need to know about company operations.  Explain what the numbers on the financial reports mean, and show how individual efforts affect budgets and revenues in different areas.
  • A: Ask.  Ask for the workforce’s full participation.  If trust is high between management and workers, the organization probably has high levels of participation already.  If not, ask employees to offer suggestions on how to improve operations.
  • L: Listen.  To foster a sense of ownership, commit to being open to new ideas from unexpected sources.  Reward employees for their ideas.  And don’t be surprised if their insights provide new perspectives that hadn’t been considered.
  • L: Learn.  Talk to staff and learn who the most influential employees are, who the “squeaky wheels” are, and how to bring them on board.
  • Finally, don’t stall on the decision making.  It will only frustrate employees and engender mistrust.  And then you’re right back where you started.

Mackay’s Moral:  Knowledge is not power until it is used