Month: May 2014

Mission Mess: making your mess a mission

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“If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind…


“…then is an empty desk a sign?” -Einstein

In Manhattan on Broadway, there used to sit two magazine stores across the street from each other. One, a chain, put their Cosmopolitan magazine snugly and neatly next to their Fortunes. They had a powerful inventory system and training series that taught their employees how to make the most of their time with the customer. The other, owned by old Mr. Essam, haphazardly stocked his magazines without the aid of computer inventory or programs. He and his assistant operated from memory and straightened as best they could whenever they could. Can you guess which one survived?

Mr. Essam, of course.

This story is from Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman‘s smart and brilliant book, A Perfect Mess. They explain how mess makes the world a better place and why Mr. Essam is still in business. One reason was his lack of overhead – no profit eating computer system telling him what to do. The other, they explain, is mess.

I once worked with a young, startup company that had a beautiful business plan, great mission, clear values, neat goals. After they worked tirelessly for months to get the company off the ground, it sank like the Titanic. My diagnosis: they were too neat.

Though there’s something to be said about neatness, there’s a hidden benefit to mess, says Abrahamson and Freedman: flexibility.

Messy systems adapt and change more quickly, more dramatically, in a wider variety of ways, and with less effort. Neat systems tend to be more rigid and slower to respond to changing demands, unexpected events, and new information. – A Perfect Mess, page 77-78

Think about the messy improvisation of a jazz ensemble, or the chaotic and sometimes drunk-looking dance of a boxer. They aren’t at a loss; they are ready for change, whether in rhythm or response.

One of the biggest disasters an organization can commit with their mission statement is making it too neat and clean. A mission statement that does not make room for failure or change is, in itself, a failure. It lacks the flexibility life requires. Stuff happens. We have to adapt.

But think outside of work for a moment.

  • What about your household rules like, “Always share, with everybody.”
  • What about the unspoken family rules like, “We don’t fight.”
  • What about relationship rules like, “I have to have a positive disposition, even when we fight.”

These rules might work for some or most things, but life is messy. Stuff happens. We have to adapt.

Teams – whether they are work teams or families – require allowances for mess. NOTE: they don’t require the mess to become a disaster! They do, however, have to expect the mess. Teams that don’t expect mess tend to get a little obsessive-compulsive: so obsessed in cleaning up each and every spill that they are compelled to ignore their primary objective.

So when setting goals for work, or for summer diet/exercise, or for your marriage, or for your kids/parents, focus on two things:

  1. What is my primary objective here?
  2. Am I willing to forgive myself when I mess up/Am I expecting to encounter mess?

Expect a little mess. Don’t let your obsession to have a perfect and neat mission get in the way of reaching your goals. Smile when messes happens. They are just reminding you that you are human!


Don’t Go There: on fearing conflict

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I know what you’re going to say…


So don’t go there…

My wife and I sat at the dinner table arguing about something we’d not really argued about before. We’re sitting there going back and forth about this new thing and suddenly the feeling of familiarity strangely rolled over me. No, we had not argued about this issue before so it wasn’t the topic. I sensed that I was familiar with the direction.

To the unkeen eye, our arguments might seem sporadic and scatted, but they really have an ebb and flow to them. Yours do too. All of our arguments do. We get used to how we fight. Our “muscle memory” kicks in when we argue. We already know how it will end up…

So sometimes, we just don’t say anything.

It’s not the familiarity that kills our arguments; rather, it’s the fear. Arguments are uncomfortable. They cause tension and we decide not to bring anything up. So when we’re at work and we finally bring up that staffing issue we’ve been muttering to ourselves about for a month, people might respond with, “Wow. I had no idea that’s been bothering you.” When we finally tell our spouse we feel the relationship is stale, they might say, “Really? How long have you felt this way? Why haven’t you said anything?”

We didn’t say anything about the tension because we were afraid the argument would turn out the same way as it always does, and that hurts. 

“But so-and-so and I argue all the time. Isn’t that conflict.” Fortune 500 consultant and smarty-pants Patrick Lencioni disagrees: “No. You have tension. But there is almost no constructive conflict. Passive, sarcastic comments are not the kind of conflict [we] are talking about.” (from the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team)

You see it’s a lack of the conflict that’s a problem. Tolerance of bad behavior is where the problem lies. We should not tolerate the negativity in others, but we should especially not tolerate it within us.

So how do we fix the issue?

  1. Separate the person from the problem. You’re not mad at them. You’re not. You’re mad at the issue, perhaps that they caused. Separate the two.
  2. Bring it up. Focus on the facts and don’t call names. Just say something about it. “I don’t like A, B, or C. I want to fix this…”
  3. Change something. Anything. A small thing or two. Just change something. Bringing up an issue and choosing not to change anything within yourself is an act of selfishness. It is expecting someone else to do something you yourself won’t stand up and do, whether you know that or not. So change something.

My wife is the greatest. Sure we argue. We’ve spent our fair share of days living in the tension. But often she brings up the stuff I am often unwilling to voice. She helps us put an end to the negativity we might utter to ourselves and keep from the other. And besides, there’s no other person I can think of who can argue with me one minute and share a plate of cookies and milk the next.

I forgot to mention – cookies and milk help 100% of the time.

Good luck, friends. May you have a conflict-filled (and change-filled) week.

eBook Results

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Congratulations to Kelsie Day on winning the $50 Amazon Giftcard!

Again, my sincerest, biggest thanks to all of you who helped me reach the Amazon bestsellers list. Because of your amazing efforts, we peaked at No. 16 on the Amazon War Fiction Bestsellers charts! 

The ebook will remain at the low price of only $2.99 on You can also purchase the paperback version of the book on Amazon for $15

Thanks for helping me make a dream come true!


Mission Success

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This photo was taken midday, May 13th. 


As of now, it stands at #25!

Many of you flooded Amazon with orders of the book and helped land me on the top 25 Bestselling War Fiction charts. It may be a small list (only a few thousand compared to a few million), but we certainly did. 

And I do mean we

I could not have done it. You, the community at large, rallied around me and helped get this on the charts. Now we just have to keep it there! The best thing to do is leave a review of the book on the Amazon site. Once you do, it will help the book gain credibility among readers and up the ranking. 

But before you continue enjoying the novel, let me sincerely thank you – each and every one of you – for helping me get this off the ground. It takes a community to tell a story; this is your story as much as it is mine. The heroes out there – honored or nameless – helped write this story. I can only take an itsy-bitsy amount of credit for it. 

The work is not over for The Coward. Promotions and signings will continue. I’ll be working on the next steps of the process as you read this. In the mean time, click here and get the book if you haven’t already, then leave a review. If you do it by Friday, May 16th, you’ll be entered in to win a $50 Amazon gift card. Then tell your friends. You can even gift the book or eBook to a friend. 

And most importantly – enjoy! 

Nothing brings me more joy as a writer than to let readers and listeners simply enjoy. So for now, that is what I shall do. Blessings to you all, and thank you for your support.