One Basket

June 25, 2010

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. When I first heard this expression, I was very young… but even then, it resonated. Over the years it has proven to be true time and again. Don’t invest all your money in one stock… don’t keep all your data on one drive… don’t put all your trust in one person or idea… and so on. By concentrating all our energy, prospects or resources in one area, we risk losing everything.

A few years ago, one of my employees asked why we weren’t pursuing a specific client more aggressively. “They’re huge,” he said. “We could be doing far more business with them.” He was right… and that’s exactly why we weren’t pursuing them. We already had too many resources focused on that account. Having started my company from nothing, I quickly learned the importance of having a diversified client base. It’s easy to be enticed by a huge client. The money and perceived stability are great… until the real cost comes due. Freedom always has a price. I told my employee, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away… the same holds true with a big client.” As tempting as it may be, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket… or focus all your resources on one account.”

In 1894, Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson wrote, “Behold, the fool saith, ‘Put not all thine eggs in the one basket’—which is but a manner of saying, ‘Scatter your money and your attention’; but the wise man saith, ‘Put all your eggs in the one basket and—watch that basket!’”

I’m not suggesting you scatter your money or attention… but being human, we eventually stop watching the basket. This is especially true at the macro level. Without critically thinking, we along with countless others continue putting all our eggs in the same basket. The more we do it, the easier and more natural it becomes. Eventually, the number of eggs expands beyond our individual or collective comprehension. Its reach becomes so intrusive we stop seeing it.

To accommodate the growing number of eggs, the basket must continually expand. This expansion necessitates additional employees and mangers to service, direct and control activities. Initially, the experts in charge assure us that they are acting in our best interests and protecting our eggs. In time they find communicating a waste of time… so they stop. Besides, as the basket grows, more and more people are employed to keep it running… friends and family members, too. The basket expands far beyond eggs and infiltrates every aspect of society. Read more

Beyond Labels

May 21, 2010

An author, enigma, husband, lazy, philosopher, stupid, intelligent, uncle, dreamer, kind, father, sincere, creative genius, son, public speaker, radical, friend, loving, designer, liberal, conservative, insightful, extremist, smart ass, brilliant, idiot, businessman, brother, left-wing, right-wing… these are some of the words and labels people have used to describe me over the past year. Some have been shared directly, others behind my back. While some labels are more objective and useful to communicate, others are subjective and open to interpretation. Notice the contradictions in my labels? That’s because they are projections. Labels reflect as much about the labeler as they do the person being labeled. Since I put little merit in subjective labels, I try not to let them influence my thinking. As people we are more than labels… and reality always trumps words.

While labels simplify the world, provide context and help us organize our thoughts, they don’t define reality. In business, people are given titles to describe a role or position. These labels don’t describe who they are, or what they’re capable of doing. The same holds true with children. Have you ever heard a conversation along these lines?

“My daughter is gifted… she’s in all the advanced classes!”

“That’s wonderful, my son is LD… actually, he’s ADD… and in special classes.

“My oldest son is ADHD and he went on to college. My daughter is average… she’s getting by in regular classes… if she worked harder she could be in AP courses.” Read more

“Think Outside the Box”… but Look Behind the Curtain

February 17, 2010

The first time I heard the phrase “Think Outside the Box” was shortly after I had graduated from college. I was working at a small but thriving visual communications firm. Concerned about growing too fast and losing control, the president invited a few business consultants in to see if they could help us manage our growth. Being a rookie designer, I was honored when the president asked me to attend the presentations.

Perhaps the stars were aligned just so that week, but of the three consultancies invited to present, the first two started their presentations the exact same way… by challenging us with a nine-dot puzzle. Solving it required connecting each dot using four straight, continuous lines—without lifting the pen from the paper.

The first consultant seemed taken aback by our questions and passion toward solving it. Apparently he had come in expecting to present the puzzle, answer a few predictable questions, watch us make some failed attempts, and then give us the answer. Until that day, he had only presented to business executives who had little interest in solving visual puzzles—not graphic designers.

By using a very wide marker, all nine dots could be connected with only one line.

When I asked him if we could use one line rather than four, he just smiled. “If you can solve the puzzle using only one line, by all means, be my guest. Just make certain it’s a straight line… and don’t lift your pen.” Before I could respond, he added, “If you solve it with four lines, lunch is on me… solve it with one line and I’ll make certain you get a raise… and bonus, too,” then winked at the president of our firm.

When I explained that my solution required a very wide pen, he began shaking his head and then with a dismissive laugh said, “No… I’m afraid that would be cheating… you have to use a standard size pen.” Then he held his marker up for everyone to see before asking again, “Okay, are you ready for the answer?” Read more