What’s new?

A friend of mine likes to ask “What’s new” when he sees someone for the first time each day. I’ve noticed that most people answer “nothing much” or “same old same old” and rarely do they elaborate on what is actually new in their lives.

Whether or not the question is intended to be rhetorical in nature, I wonder how often we stop to consider what is actually new in our lives? What is new in your life today? Does a list suddenly come to mind that you’d love to share? Or do you have to stop to think about it for a while before you eek out a thin but eager answer?

The new things in life are often how windows of opportunity are packaged. It’s easy to overlook them, especially if you are stuck in a mode of droning along, like a good little worker bee. Even if nothing is new in the circumstances round about, every day provides a fresh canvas upon which you can express yourself in new ways. Just because your circumstances are stale doesn’t mean that you have to be!

You’ve no doubt heard the statement which goes something like this: “If you are bored, you are boring.” While that may not always be the case, boredom is often the result of the prolonged experience of sameness. Sameness, in turn, is often produced by habitual reactions to the world’s happenings. If, therefore, you change up your habits of reaction, you are likely to enjoy a new experience, even if all other things are held equal.

When my friend asks me “What’s new” my first response is, “Well, everything!” I suspect he gets a kick out of that reply as much for its uncommonness as for what is to follow in conversation. The recognition of newness is the first step to experiencing a more vibrant, dynamic and influential life.

So…what’s new with you?

Green Eggs and Ham: The Wages of Simplicity

Why are the simplest things frequently the most influential? I was reading Dr. Seuss to my sons the other day and I couldn’t help but be impressed by the simplicity of his bestselling book, Green Eggs and Ham, a simple book that is, incidentally, one of the best-selling children’s books of all time!

Seuss wrote the book after his publisher, Bennett Cerf, bet him $50 that he could not write a book using only fifty different words. Seuss won the bet, using only the following words:

a
am
and
anywhere
are
be
boat
box
car
could
dark
do
eat
eggs
fox
goat
good
green
ham
here
house
I
if
in
let
like
may
me
mouse
not
on
or
rain
Sam
say
see
so
thank
that
the
them
there
they
train
tree
try
will
with
would
you

Not only did he write the story using fifty words, all but one of the fifty words are monosyllabic. Isn’t that wonderful?

I find that much of my job as CEO of several small business involves helping others to find ways to get the job done, the point across, the product to market, and so on, more simply. When asked why I advocate keeping things simple, I am quick to reply that complicated is expensive, overly-complex is confusing and confusion stops everything.

Every one of us is involved in bringing order out of chaos. Whether you work in marketing, sales, accounting or human resources, your effectiveness depends upon your ability to turn something messy into something presentable. Those who lack that ability are wise to find ways to develop it. So doing can increase your value to your employer, to your family and to the world, exponentially.

I am generally suspicious of people who use big words to dazzle others. They are more often than not trying to hide the fact that they don’t actually know what they’re talking about. Likewise, I am slower to warm up to those who have not taken the time to distill their thoughts and ideas than I am to someone who has obviously thought the matter through to the best of their ability.

That said, you must take care not to over-simplify. Rarely are things black-and-white; the key is to make things as simple as they are, not simpler. There is a sweet spot in every situation. Get to know it and you will lead an influential life.

Longfellow once said: “In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.” I am inclined to agree!

What changed? Well, everything changed.

A man hasn’t got a corner on virtue just because his shoes are shined.” – Ann Petry

All this talk of fashion reminds me of a wonderful tour I was given of the John Lobb workshop in Paris, prior to its move to the rue de Mogador. If you haven’t heard the name before, John Lobb has been making some of the world’s finest shoes and boots since 1866 (http://www.johnlobb.com/heritage/). John Lobb was acquired by the Hermès Group in 1974 and their bespoke creations are wearable works of art.

Prior to the industrial revolution, bespoke tailoring, boot and shoemaking was the norm. Every outfit and every pair used to be made to fit the individual, highlighting assets and downplaying liabilities. Then came the industrial revolution and its machines and factories transformed an industry filled with artisans and craftsman.

Powerloom, Image by Wikipedia

The novelty and economics of “machine made” created an enormous splash, whose ripples continue to lap upon the shore of the pages of current fashion history. Everything could be made, cheaper, more quickly and for more people. What changed? Well, everything changed.

I recently spoke with a haberdasher about his experience with new clients who have never before tried custom-made clothing. He told me an interesting story about a man he had worked with the week before who never really liked clothing as his height and weight made it impossible for him to buy anything off the rack that fit properly. When he realized he could have clothes made to not only fit, but complement his frame, he was overjoyed. It was if a veil had lifted in his experience and with it went pounds of shame, embarrassment and discomfort that he had lived with all his life. He went from prisoner to proprietor. What changed, everything changed.

I’ve enjoyed seeing a resurgence of bespoke artisans – tailors, boot and makers and the like – in the wake of the industrial revolution. Unfortunately the cost of having clothing or footwear custom tailored is too high for most, but there are ways to complement your size and shape. It takes little research and a bit of practice, but men and women can find clothing that will improve their appearance on any income. You needn’t spend a fortune to find ways to magnify your virtue through wise clothing choices.

I spent an hour or so speaking with the various artisans in the John Lobb atelier, and to my surprise just about everyone I met had been working there for at least twenty years! They were proud of their craftsmanship, protective of their art and confident in their skill. All of them felt honored to do what they were doing and wouldn’t trade their craft for the world.

Compare that with the experience of most factory workers in today’s textile mills and you get a closer view of the changes wrought by the industrial age upon the loom of humanity. It is a starkly different texture. Progress? Well, I’m not so sure.

Forgive me for prying, but what in your world do you allow to imprison you? Your clothing is but one possible jailer, but what of your diet, your outlook, your friendships, your lifestyle? In my view far too many people live their lives in prisons of their own making. How do you break down these walls? Well, at first you must learn to be comfortable in your own shoes.

You have to be willing to get to know yourself as you are, here and now. Come to rest in your limitations and you will soon be free from your limitations. From there you can find those resources at your disposal that will best complement you as you now are. Moving onward and upward from there is easy!

If your experience is anything like mine was, when you come to rest with yourself the first question that will come to mind is “What changed?” To which you will naturally respond: “Well, everything changed.”

Have a great day!

Dress for Success

“Great men are seldom over-scrupulous in the arrangement of their attire.” – Charles Dickens

One thing should be clear: clothes do not make a man a gentleman or a woman a lady; and, by the same token, a real gentleman or a true lady is always a gentleman or a lady, no matter what he or she wears. The clothes you wear either magnify or cloak your personality and what you wear is in many ways less important than how you wear it.

I relaxed my company’s dress code today in hopes that there might be room for greater creative freedom, not just in apparel choices but in thought and deed. We’ve been heavily engaged in breaking down assumptions we’ve held that have prevented us in any way from making it easy for our clients to do business with us and this fashion statement was freshly pressed to that end.

The fashion choices we make are deeply personal. Like our food choices, they are based part on preference, part on need, part on availability and part on custom. Your clothing is a calling card to your personality, to your mood and to your outlook and your ability to dress appropriately can have a significant impact on how successful you are in any department of life.

It is possible to overdress. It is possible to underdress. At times it makes sense to overdress while it is less commonly advisable to underdress. The key is to dress in such a way that you do not hinder your effectiveness in life. Neutral or helpful is good. Hindrance is bad.

I’ve found that first impressions are important to people but at the same time I’ve always enjoyed the times when I’ve been surprised to learn that my initial impressions were incorrectly formed. Appearances can be deceiving and its worth remembering that fact lest you be caught in a web of prejudice.

In relaxing the dress code at my company I hope that everyone will rise to the occasion and take care to determine what is appropriate. We don’t live in a time like the Elizabethan era where what was worn when was formalized and rigid. That said, the art of appropriateness lives on.

There are those (often men) who say that they don’t really care about what they wear, but then when you look at them from one situation to the next they somehow end up not just fitting in but often matching what others around them wear. I was recently in a small town where every guy had a baseball cap on with sunglasses perched atop the cap. I was convinced of a fashion conspiracy, but were I to ask about it I’m sure that every one of them would have said that they put no thought to the ensemble.

There is no harm done in caring about what you wear, neither is there any problem in my book with not caring much about what you wear, unless your lack of concern gets in the way of you delivering the greatness that is yours to give. Clothing fitly chosen, like words fitly spoken are an aspect of your aesthetic and there is no reason to decrease the odds of someone receiving you due to a poorly composed aesthetic.

At the end of the day, it’s not so much what you wear but the goods you deliver that tell the tale. If you don’t have the resources to wear what you would like to wear, don’t be ashamed. Do the best you can with what you have and you can’t go wrong. As Albert Einstein said “If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies…It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.”