Recently, I learned to communicate without talking, typing, texting, calling, or holding a video meeting. My newfound communication skills included messages that were much deeper than spoken or written words could ever convey.
My learning began when I set out to fulfill a lifelong ambition to feel comfortable riding horses. Little did I know how much my communication with horses would teach me about communication with humans. Let me explain.
This summer, I rode extensively and, in the process, learned something about communication and the importance of touch and contact. While mounted in my saddle with my boots secured in stirrups – supports designed to safely position our heels to communicate with our horses – I began to realize that my horse, “Cornelius,” didn’t care about my video meeting background design or whether my volume was turned up. He and I were connected as my body movements, position, and attitude told him something deeper than spoken or written words can ever convey.
Being out on the trail thinking about each body position or heel gesture, reminded me that we are still not meeting up in person as much as we should. While I don’t intend to ‘ride’ friends or colleagues, being with Cornelius did inspire me to try to interact with others more directly – to shake hands, to look others in the eye, to talk intimately and with focus. It was on the riding trails in Montana that I started to think more about other sources of stirrup-like balance and support that foster non-equine communication.
I want to travel to more meetings, really plan the right family vacations, make sure I don’t skip reunions, and just reach out to grab a coffee with someone important to me. All those interactions are a bit (pun intended) like stirrups. They support and position us to communicate in ways email, text, phone, and video just can’t match. In the same way that our bodies tell a horse where and when we want to go, our facial expressions, posture, handshakes, and tone help us convey deep ideas and more vibrant messages. I feel compelled to remind myself (and others) of the value of time together with those important to us personally and professionally. I’m feeling like it has been a little too easy to schedule that video call rather than grab a coffee or a beer in person.
As the end of summer gallops upon us, I’m declaring a new ambition to find and create those places and encounters where I can interact with the people who are important to me – in person. Just as I’ve fulfilled my horse-riding ambition, I am determined to seek out and create more sets of stirrups to support my plan to have meaningful in person interactions this fall. How about you?
Want to go for a walk or a horse ride?
The Florentine Interview
I had the pleasure of sitting down with the editor the "The Florentine" to talk about my journey from the coffee industry to life in Florence.
It was an honor to be invited by Ragini Gupta, US Consul General Florence, Italy, to participate in a new initiative which hopes to connect American business leaders with local Italian entrepreneurs. The program, called "US Connect," was featured in an article by Ilaria Ciuti which appeared in "La Repubblica" on December 13, 2021. I'm looking forward to providing support and sharing lessons from "Grow Like a Lobster" to Italian business leaders seeking to build extraordinary organizations.
As we get back to life with more group interaction, I have been reminded of some important opportunities to use meetings to make our organizations better. In my first few years as a CEO, our company meetings and data generation were not optimal. We used materials that had evolved piecemeal without a strategy or understanding of how best to spend time together. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. Too often, our monthly progress meetings were inefficient and failed to help us move forward. Maybe you can relate to this experience? When we finally learned how to structure an executive meeting, the materials to share in advance, and how organized communication could prepare and align people, our meetings became productive, and the organization excelled.
What are the monthly or quarterly reporting, meeting, and communication styles of your organization? Do you have a well-defined board package or meeting pre-read packet? Are any techniques or tools missing?
Here are four tools for effective board or senior leadership meetings that I have applied and observed in businesses and while working with others:
Consistent Agenda: Adopt a standard meeting agenda and follow it for every meeting. Condition your team to know what will be covered in each section and make it easy to update information. Then, the group can spend their time and energy looking for patterns and exceptions to solve problems. When we measure and observe, things tend to move in the direction we desire. Consistency allows us to focus without distraction and stay on topic.
Revisit Your Mission/Strategy: Discuss and include a small section of your corporate objectives at every meeting. Don’t assume that because a mission or strategy statement is hanging on the wall or printed on a colorful glossy that everyone has internalized it. Begin every monthly meeting with a review of one line of your mission statement. Reviewing a small piece at every gathering can help build and later reinforce a collective understanding of your corporate identity and priorities so they become ingrained in your culture.
Help Participants Come Prepared: The most impactful way to make meetings successful may also be the one most often missed. Great meetings are those where participants have received information in advance. When the data and written situation reports are delivered and reviewed ahead of time, the meeting participants (in-person or online) can spend their time together making progress and decisions. Too often, pre-meeting information is nonexistent, delivered at the last minute, or incomplete. Note: Deliver all materials a minimum of 48 hours in advance of the meeting.
Minutes and Next Steps: Always end a meeting by defining the next steps and clearly confirming expectations and the individuals responsible for the actions. After the meeting, follow up with the action items so time spent on a subject was not wasted. Send out minutes to recap the discussion and next steps. Be sure to get confirmation and approval of the minutes from every participant – in writing.
Tighten up the documentation, share your mission, prepare your participants, and always follow up. As a result, your meetings will become focused on fixing problems, bringing stakeholders together, and identifying opportunities to move things forward. What are your next steps to get there?
Hanseatic Coffee Company is an up-and-coming young brand that delivers highest quality specialty coffee in carefully designed packaging. Hanseatic Coffees can be found in retail, wholesale, and online configurations.
Sven Peters, founder and managing director of the Hanseatic Coffee Company shares: “We are very pleased to have found a strategic partner in WAVE. We believe that the WAVE team can support our further expansion in Germany and elsewhere around the world.” Peters goes on to add: “Together with WAVE partners like Andraschko Kaffeemanufaktur, Public Coffee Roasters, and Lykke Kaffegårdar, we see great possibilities to expand our product range and our sales network nationally and internationally.”
Nils Erichsen, managing partner of WAVE continues: “From WAVE’s point of view, Hanseatic’s product and sales concepts along with the outstanding team all fit perfectly into our portfolio of specialty coffee roasters. We are very excited about the retail expertise Sven Peters and his team will bring to the existing resources in our Group.” The WAVE investment is based on a strong belief in the Hanseatic Brand along with the possible synergies for all WAVE coffee businesses to learn and mature together.
About Hanseatic Coffee Company GmbH
Hanseatic Coffee Company GmbH was founded in Hamburg in 2014 by Kathrin and Sven Peters. The Peters family has been importing, producing, and trading food and coffee for several generations. Sven Peters’ father was a coffee merchant who inherited his passion for coffee from a similarly enthusiastic family line before him.
Hanseatic Coffee stands for quality, innovation, appreciation, fairness, and sustainability around coffee. The company aspires to roast and deliver top-quality coffees for “everyone” who recognizes modern tradition. Target customer groups include upscale food retailers as well as at-home consumers, offices, and restaurants in Germany and Europe. For more information: https://hanseatic-coffee.com
Many of you wrote to me with kind words and appreciation after my recent post on the advice I received from my mentor, General William Odom. The feedback reminded me of another lesson I thought I’d pass along. In his Tennessee accent and kind but husky voice, he gave me an invaluable tip on how to tell an effective story, write a paper, frame a business presentation, or give a speech. In short, he told me how to communicate anything and make it memorable. Now, I’m going to share his advice with you.
I remember sitting in General Odom’s office one cold and rainy afternoon during professor’s office hours. I had come to him for guidance on how to structure a paper I was researching. After hearing me out, he looked me in the eye, and with his cigar hanging off to the side of his mouth, he shared what may be the simplest but most valuable lesson of writing I’ve ever received.
With a big grin, he said: “Josh, it’s simple. Just think about the Baptist minister.” I looked at him in utter confusion but knew to wait for the explanation. A moment later, he asked me to think about the great orators of Southern churches and the cadence and structure of their sermons. He mentioned Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham, and other great preachers of celebrity who happened to be Baptist ministers. Now that I had the image in mind, he made it all so simple:
“First, you tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then, you tell them. Finally, you tell them what you told them.”
You can use this advice and the image of a minister when you tell a story, write a paper, or give a speech (try it on a wedding toast!). You can share it with your employees and even your kids when they need help structuring their words.
There, I just told you what I was going to tell you about General Odom’s advice for communicating. Then, I told you the advice. Finally, I’m telling you what I told you.
Next time you write something, “Think about the Baptist minister.” This simple image might help you structure your communications to be more powerful, clear, and memorable.
Artwork: Georgia W. Dick
Mentors and Contact
It has been a long time since my last note. Like many, I’ve been feeling isolated and have been missing contact with friends, family, and colleagues around the world. The pandemic has reminded me, and perhaps you too, of the importance of contact and the value we gain from personal human interaction.
I am blessed to have had an amazing mentor in my life, and lately I’ve especially been missing the moments from long ago when we would sit in his office and I would just listen as he chomped a cigar and freely imparted wisdom, advice, and opinions. For about fifteen years, General William Odom helped guide me on my journey. Recently, I’ve been reminded of those interactions and become more aware of how the pandemic has made it difficult to forge mentor relationships. In reviewing my past personal diaries, I came across powerful lessons I had noted from my interactions with General Odom. Here are a few highlights that I hope will inspire you too:
Read for Bias: Especially in today’s media environment, it is important to remember that there is very little in front of us that doesn't bear the mark of the author. Read the perspectives of those you agree with but also of those you don’t. All facts are dependent on the source and the motivations of their teller.
Question Conformity: General Odom was a scholar of Soviet military policy. He often brought discussions about all ranges of current events back to the mindset of the pre-Soviet peasant. He stressed the power of questioning authority and pointing out the risks of groupthink. Never stop questioning, and be wary of moments when everyone is moving in one direction too easily.
Don’t Settle: General Odom emphasized the idea that complacency was not welcome. While it is okay to enjoy our victories, be wary of feeling self-satisfied.
Find the Post: We often have big ideas and lots to share. Most stories are bigger than listeners can digest all at once. General Odom pointed out the importance of distinguishing between the fence and just one single fence post. Keep your audience’s attention by finding a way to make just one single fence post interesting. Pick your post, dig down into it, and tell its story. Once you’ve done justice to your selected post, you can move on to the next. When we try to tell the story of the entire fence, we risk losing our audience. When you’re sharing your ideas, focus on one important part at a time.
Even if personal human interactions remain limited for a while, I encourage each of us to find a safe way to connect with others, to seek out mentors for conversations (even if you can’t meet in person, and even if they don’t chomp cigars), and to take notes on what you learn from others throughout your day.
Background: General William E. Odom retired from the US Army as a three-star Lieutenant General. After serving as the Director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan, he entered academia. To my good fortune, I found him teaching at Yale just as I was enrolling. He was a professor, an advisor, and the truest definition of a mentor that I have ever known. Below is his obituary by the Washington Post that I cut and pasted in my diary upon his death in June 2008.
William E. Odom, 75; Military Adviser to 2 Administrations
By Matt Schudel Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, June 1, 2008; C08
William E. Odom, 75, a retired Army lieutenant general who was a senior military and intelligence official in the Carter and Reagan administrations and who, in recent years, became a forceful critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, died May 30 at his vacation home in Lincoln, Vt. An autopsy will be performed, but his wife said he had an apparent heart attack.
Gen. Odom was a career Army officer who was also a serious scholar of international relations and a leading authority on the Soviet Union. He was the military assistant to Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser and director of the National Security Agency during President Ronald Reagan's second term.
He had a reputation as a military hard-liner who opposed any compromise with the Soviet Union, which made his vocal opposition to the current involvement in Iraq all the more cogent and surprising.
"Among senior military people, he was probably the first to consider the war in Iraq a misbegotten adventure," Brzezinski said yesterday. "He believed that we're just stoking hostility to the United States in that region and developing an opposition that cannot be defeated by military means. He was very outspoken."
Well before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Gen. Odom warned that military action in Iraq would be foolhardy and futile. He outlined his positions in The Washington Post's Outlook section Feb. 11, 2007, in the essay "Victory Is Not an Option."
"The president's policy is based on illusions, not realities," he wrote. "There never has been any right way to invade and transform Iraq."
Gen. Odom became a fixture on news programs and never altered his critical stance toward the Bush administration's policies in Iraq and Iran. On Tuesday, he and Brzezinski wrote an op-ed article for The Post in which they stated that the White House's "heavy-handed" approach toward Iran would backfire and "almost certainly result in an Iran with nuclear weapons."
Earlier in his career, as an Army officer in Vietnam, Gen. Odom had privately come to oppose U.S. involvement in foreign wars that brought, in his view, little benefit to the United States. He drew parallels between Vietnam and Iraq and believed that the only sensible path for the United States was a complete and immediate withdrawal from Iraq.
He was neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but in 2007 he delivered a stinging radio address on behalf of the Democratic Party.
"Most Americans suspect that something is fundamentally wrong with the president's management of the conflict in Iraq, and they are right," he said. "The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq, it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place."
Gen. Odom was born June 23, 1932, in Cookeville, Tenn., and was a 1954 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. His interest in Russia began when he studied the 18th-century reign of Peter the Great.
After serving as an infantry and armor officer, he took a more strategic path. He learned Russian, received a master's degree in 1962 from Columbia University and was posted to East Germany in the mid-1960s.
After teaching government at West Point, he returned to Columbia for a PhD in comparative politics in 1970. Gen. Odom was a military attache at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1972 to 1974, where he studied Soviet life. He also spent more time on the West Point faculty in the 1970s and at Brzezinski's Research Institute on Communist Affairs at Columbia.
When Brzezinski became Carter's national security adviser in 1977, he named Gen. Odom his military assistant.
"He was both a fighter and an intellectual," Brzezinski said.
Because of his fierce anti-Soviet stance, Gen. Odom was known as "Zbig's superhawk" and his "crisis coordinator," who helped plan responses to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the capture of hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
Gen. Odom spent four years in Army intelligence before being named director of the National Security Agency, the government's largest spy operation, in 1985. He threatened to prosecute journalists at The Post and other media outlets in 1986 for compromising national security after exposing a U.S. eavesdropping operation by submarines in Soviet harbors.
In 1988, Gen. Odom retired from the Army and NSA and began a career in academia. He was a resident of Washington but had taught at Yale University since 1989. He wrote seven books in the past 16 years, including the authoritative "The Collapse of the Soviet Military," which portrayed the Soviet military hierarchy as bloated and hopelessly corrupt.
"He was a genuine scholar who loved scholarship and wrote some important books and was a very effective teacher," said Brzezinski, who added that he and Gen. Odom often played tennis. "He was better than me," Brzezinski said.
Survivors include his wife of 45 years, Anne Odom, a former chief curator of the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, of Washington and Lincoln, Vt.; a son, Army Lt. Col. Mark Odom, of Fort Lewis, Wash., who was wounded in action in Iraq; a brother; a sister; and a granddaughter.
Photo: Official photo of William Odom, Director of the National Security Agency, Public Domain
Wave Investment in Lykke
Wave Investments GMBH has made an investment in Swedish coffee roaster Lykke Kaffegårdar. The company is focused on coffee lovers who care about the important stuff. Lykke, which means ”happiness” in Nordic, redefines great coffee by pioneering a new concept of partnership at origin. Lykke embraces the idea of never doing harm and always striving to making things better along every step of the coffee supply chain.
Lykke delivers the highest quality coffee while never sacrificing people or the world for an extra profit. The end result is happy people, happy environment, and smiles for all.
BKON Raises $3 Million
Super proud of the hard work of the team at BKON for getting to this next level of development! Keep up the good work! Read about their fundraising here.
My family and I recently had a great experience while out to dinner, and I believe part of the credit goes to a chalkboard.* The food was amazing, the staff was engaging, and everyone felt doted upon. At one point, I looked up and saw a simple but powerful business initiative in action – the good old wall chalkboard. That basic tool, when used wisely, can help any business or home become a better place for people to grow and engage together whether we are interacting in person or remotely.
On the chalkboard at Gastone in Florence, I could see details of the Wi-Fi network, daily specials, operating hours, staff names, and social media hashtags. This is all stuff no one needs to spend time discussing, and therefore every interaction with the staff and the diner becomes a chance to engage on more valuable matters – like how the fish is prepared and why the chef, Carmine, makes it that way.
Any business can find ways to use similar simple tools. Too often, we find ourselves urgently answering the same questions over and over and missing opportunities to focus on what’s important. Certain daily events, tasks, and assignments never change; however, we dedicate a lot of time to discussing their time, place, and the person responsible for their management. Throughout my career, identifying the answers we deliver repeatedly and using visual management to break the cycle of wastefulness have freed up resources and allowed working relationships and collective output to flourish. As we work from home we are less able to interact with our colleagues so electronic dashboards and group task lists can serve the role of a simple chalkboard for all to access.
In running Urnex, I often challenged our Plant Manager to spend a day on the job as if mute or suffering from laryngitis. It was through this experience that he could notice people on our workforce asking the same questions about their job assignments, where to put things, or even when lunch began. This was a golden opportunity to evaluate our signage. I sensed that people were asking because someone was there to answer and because the time spent asking was preferable to heading to their workstations. This “day of silence” exercise led to a list of the questions that people asked, and an initiative to post or improve answers on a label or sign on the factory wall.
If you can’t stand chalkboards, think about it as a giant, well-organized collection of Post-it notes visible from a distance. The goal is to be able to answer questions or clarify a plan by just referencing a sign. Once a silent reply is received enough times, people stop asking and start looking. By moving everyone a step forward without the need for discussion, more time becomes available for solving real problems and for colleagues to interact toward more productive innovations.
The chalkboard at Gastone illustrates the value of these same ideas. Once travel resumes and you find yourself in Florence, visit the restaurant. I believe you will experience the warmth and level of interaction that my family experienced when staff members Chiara and Gaia attended to our table. Just like factory signage, using a publicly accessible shared calendar, or labeling the spot your kids are supposed to return their toys – the restaurant found a way to help its staff focus on creating the best dining experience.
Spend part of your work time not speaking but just listening and taking notes. It may help illustrate the waste in your day. Whether you come up with a way to remind your team about regularly scheduled meetings, provide visitors clear information about where to enter your office, help remind your kids what time they need to be ready to leave for practice or to logon to an online class – visual communication of the basics can make every day smoother and give you time to make every interaction a little richer.
*Note: This turned out to be our family’s “Last Supper” out on the town before Italy imposed its newest COVID-19-related restrictions on October 24, 2020. Wishing everyone a safe and healthy future ahead and hoping we can return to Gastone for another dinner sometime soon.
Rainbows - Newsletter July 6, 2020
Snow and rain have come and gone and the season has changed twice since the global pandemic began and our communities went into self-isolation. Over this period, we've encountered unprecedented challenges as businesses have been thrown into disarray, families have lost loved ones, societies have pursued difficult self-assessments, and education has been forever changed.
Despite these challenges, our children continue to grow and mature, our relationships deepen, our minds keep tinkering with what comes next, and we know there will always be rainbows to discover.
Drawing on "Grow Like a Lobster," I continue to be amazed by the molt we're all experiencing. While I never expected everyone to molt at once, I remain confident that our shells will one day harden and our growth will progress.
To me, the most exciting part of these tough times has been our collective embrace of new forms of technologically supported communication. I like to think that the new ideas shared by businesses and global medical professionals using video conferences, the family reunions initiated via videolink, and the friendships re-discovered using these same technologies are all just like discovering a rainbow.
Expect your shell to reharden and appreciate each rainbow.
Photo credit: Kristin Krebs-Dick
Business Owner's Freedom Episode 409: How to Grow Your Business Like a Lobster
My interview with Paul Maskill on his "Business Owner's Freedom Formula" Podcast is now live! Paul does a great just helping entrepreneurs understand the difference between running a business and just running. Paul believes that your business should be serving you and should be structured in a way that it can thrive without you. These concepts are perfectly aligned with my approach to building a business and the key. ideas of "Grow Like a Lobster." Please give it a listen and share your thoughts with a friend.
Play Your Position Podcast
Please listen to my disucssion with Mary Lour Kayser on her "Play Your Position" Podcast. During our time together, we dive into topics such as: What do lobsters have to do with business growth and success? You will be surprised to learn that there is much more here than you might initially think. Mary makes things fun and puts the discussion into the context of competitive football game. The podcast is available here and anywhere you source your favorite podcasts.
Time4Coffee Podcast with Andrea Koppel
It was so great to be a guest on Andrea Koppel's "Time4Coffee" podcast. Time4Coffee is a podcast dedicated to helping college students, grad students, and young professionals still looking for the right job in the right career, navigate a rapidly changing global job marketplace. In our discussion, I share some of my personal experiences navigating a range of pre-entrepreneurial careers that helped me find my "dream job" referenced throughout "Grow Like a Lobster." Episode #449 is now available on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, and GoogleHome. Please check it out or share with someone that might appreciate the perspective.
During her 30+ years as a working professional in journalism (CNN), public affairs, public relations and the non-profit worlds, Andrea Koppel routinely provided free advice, over countless cups of coffee, to scores of younger and older people trying to build their careers. She hopes Time4Coffee will be able to replicate, at scale, what she and so many others do every day but on a one-on-one basis, to help thousands of aspiring Gen Z, iGen and Millennial professionals achieve their wildest dreams!
Service Business Mastery Podcast
It was a pleasure to join Tersh Blissett on his "Service Business Mastery" podcast. The Youtube version is already online and embedded here in this post. This podcast has a refreshing focus on offering smart ways to build a service business. I really enjoyed the practical approach to business problems and talking about the common challenges faced by entrepreneurs across all industries. We learned together that the lessons of "Grow Like a Lobster" can be applied to any industry. I look forward to sharing details about availability of the audio version when it is released on all your favorite podcast providers. Thanks Tersh!