The winter Olympics have started. I like the Olympics. There is something special about an event that only occurs every 4 years where the participants train their entire lives for perhaps one defining moment. pyeongchang-2018The Olympic event happens in various locations around the world. It is enjoyable to learn about the diverse cultures and see the beautiful sights the world has to offer.

I like the timed and racing events better than the judged event. The human element of judging adds some uncertainty that lowers my interest level. I do enjoy the entertainment value of events like ski jumping and snowboarding. My favorite Olympic event by far is downhill skiing. I like the idea of skiing on the edge to get down the hill as fast as possible. Push the edge too far and the skier will crash. The speed of this race is breathtaking with skiers hitting 80-90 mph.

My initiation to downhill skiing occurred while watching the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics.  I was 15 years old and it would be 3 more years before I would go on my first ski trip, so I was watching this event as a complete novice. These Olympics were held in Innsbruck, Franz-Klammer_250x300Austria, where downhill skiing is like the Super Bowl in the USA. The top Austrian hope for the downhill was Fanz Klammer. The pressure on Klammer to win the downhill for his native Austria was immense. Klammer was set for his final run and he was .5 seconds behind Swiss skier Bernard Russi’s blistering pace. Klammer took incredible risks on his final run. He looked like he was constantly on the edge of a major crash. It was almost like Klammer was putting his life on the line to win the gold medal for his country. Klammer beat Russi, won the gold medal and moved on to become a legend in the sports world.

Watching the video of Klammer’s gold medal ski run still inspires me today. I learned several important lessons from this event. First, I learned that winter sports are awesome. As a person born and raised in the mostly snowless southern USA, I had never attempted activities like snow skiing and watching Klammer’s run motivated me to begin a lifelong love for this sport. Second, and most impactful, Klammer’s 1976 gold medal in the Olympics taught me that there are times when we need to throw caution to the wind and go for it. While we can’t constantly pull out all the stops due to limited energy and common sense, there are opportunities to put all we have into a task. When we put everything on the line there is an enormous risk of failure, but the reward is worth the risk.

An example of “putting it all on the line,” is a career defining career project. For me this was the development of a new, revolutionary for the time, desktop computer in the mid-1990s. The company’s success was on the line with this product and my team and I put our hearts and souls into its development. While we all worked very long hours during this time I distinctly remember spending all night in a factory while my team tried to sort out a manufacturing issue. The team was able to overcome the various obstacles and launch the product. This product ended up being one of the most successful in the company’s history. Clearly none of us could have kept up this relentless work schedule for long, but we recognized this project as a defining moment and a time to be “all in.”

How do we recognize these Franz Klammer or “all in” moments? Identifying the stakes is a critical first step. Ask yourself if the project or event is important. Not just important, but critical. These events can fall under the categories of personal, professional or spiritual. Some people take the safe route and are hesitant to risk going “all in” on anything. Always taking the safe path and never risking anything is failure tainted with the bad taste of regret. Achieving remarkable things calls for greater risk. Garth Brooks sings a song called “The Dance.” In this song the singer is racked with pain from a break-up, but in the end would not change a thing because he would have missed “The Dance,” or the experience. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, we grow from failures. It is important to have the courage to risk failure. Equally important is to learn how to deal and grow with failure.

I hope you are able to watch some of the Olympics and learn from the folks “putting it all on the line.”


I received a Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welder for my birthday this past year. The fact that I had another birthday is not that great, the fact that I now have a welder is very cool. You see, I have some stuff I need to weld. Mostly welders are just awesome. It has been a long time since I have welded. Although I have always loved the idea of welding, I had an incident way back in high school that suppressed my welding urge for many decades. Despite the excitement regarding my birthday present, this prehistoric incident has slowed down my engagement with the new welder.

When I was in high school, we had to take either art, shop or band. The high school art teacher told me not to sign up for art. Apparently, she knew the middle school art teacher well and they discussed my very limited artistic potential. For some reason, I was not interested in band at the time. I leaned towards shop classes because I liked to work on cars.

Selecting shop meant taking classes in drafting, wood shop and metal shop. Drafting and wood shop went okay, although I was not good at drafting and I saw a kid get his finger cut off by a bandsaw in wood shop. I will never forget the looks we students gave each other when our teacher told us to “go look for his finger in the exhaust bin.”

Finally, I started metal shop. I really liked this class where we learned to grind, forge, and use a lathe. Towards the end of the class we learned how to weld on an ancient Lincoln 225-amp stick welder. I loved welding and created many projects with my new-found skill. Towards the end of the semester as I was welding my final project, I discovered the true power of electricity. I had been electrocuted before, but nothing serious. As I lowered my helmet and struck an arc, I somehow inserted myself in the circuit of the welder. I was blown several feet away from the welder. My chest swelled up and I felt like I had been in a car wreck. There were burn marks on my legs and I was struggling to breath. My teacher must not have wanted this incident on his record because he gave me a glass of water and sent me to my next class. I felt horrible the rest of the day and for several days later. After this incident, I resigned from welding the rest of the semester. In fact, until recently, I have had no desire to weld at all since this episode of almost 40 years ago.

You have heard of the idea of getting back on the horse after falling off. The thought behind this is, you need to get back on the horse quickly before developing a fear that will keep you from horseback riding.  As much as I enjoyed welding, this shock made continuing to participate in this interesting hobby a low priority. I simply could not get back on the horse.

Finally, after several decades, I have decided to try my hand at welding again. I must admit I am a bit nervous about getting back into welding. I have read a lot of instructional material and watched several videos on how to safely weld. The new welder is now several months old, yet I have only tried it a few times. Because I avoided welding for so long, I developed a phobia, or irrational fear, of welding. Clearly the best course of action would have been to weld again immediately after my incident.

The key lesson here to not be discouraged by a failure, such as this welding incident. It is important to dust yourself off, or in my case heal up from electrocution, and try again. Sometimes we give up on something after receiving negative feedback. Dedication and training are important if we want to succeed in something we enjoy. Don’t take it to heart and give up when people tell you about a lack of ability or talent in a subject. During my career, I was told many times about my lack of ability on the topics of finance and writing. After a few years of resigning myself to failure in those areas, I decided to develop an improvement plan. While I am clearly not an expert in finance and writing, I have worked to develop an average level of competency. When you are given negative feedback, hopefully in a constructive manner, look at it as an opportunity to improve. In fact, someone may have done you a huge favor by pointing out an area of focus for improvement. Once aware of where to concentrate, it is up to you to act to develop an improvement plan. Whether it is taking formal classes or simply watching a video, the learning options are almost limitless. Persistence and determination are often overlooked, but valuable attributes. In our constant quest for improvement, we will occasionally be “bucked off the horse.” Don’t give allow yourself time to develop fears, get right back in the saddle!

Make the most of this day!

Sleazy Boss

I have been slowly making my way through the latest Ken Burns documentary film on the Vietnam War. This is a very good series that successfully brings back many memories and provides an educational perspective on a turbulent time in American history. While there are many interesting elements to this documentary, I want to briefly consider some of the character, or lack thereof, attributes of Richard Nixon.

My first awareness and recollection of a national election was the 1968 campaign between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. My father was a big supporter of Richard Nixon. I recall my father playing dominos with my grandmother (his mother in law). During these games the topic of politics always surfaced. My grandmother was a hard-core Roosevelt Democrat who was fully supporting Humphrey. I learned a lot about politics during their civil and respectful disagreements.

As we all know, Nixon won the election but ended up resigning the presidency in disgrace 6 years later. I was a student of Watergate and have a good understanding of how Nixon’s presidency came unwound. After watching the Vietnam documentary, I learned more very disturbing facts about Nixon’s self-centred and flawed obsession with power.

During the 1968 presidential campaign, President Johnson was making progress in bringing all parties to the negotiating table with the intent of ending the Vietnam War. Nixon was concerned the Democrats would win the election if real progress was made towards ending the war. Nixon instructed his cronies to do everything possible to disrupt the peace process. The details of the story can be found here Nixon Delays Peace Process. In essence, Nixon attempted to delay the end of the war to win an election. It is not clear if this peace effort would have actually ended the war sooner but what is now known is Nixon tried to disrupt the process.

I wonder how Nixon’s underlings reacted to his request to delay the peace process and potentially extend the Vietnam War? These folks had to know Nixon’s request was immoral but, as far as we know, they did not object and did attempt to implement the plan. This brings me to a key question; how do you react when your boss assigns an unethical task?

I faced this question early in my career. While working as an entry level engineer, I was assigned the task of ordering parts for our prototypes. We had an urgent need for a part to meet our development schedule. The company where I worked had a rather tedious process for assigning purchase order numbers. My boss was in a huge hurry and told me to use an old purchase order number to get the desired part as soon as possible. Even at this early stage of my career and maturity into adulthood, I knew this was wrong. Unfortunately, I did not have the skills or fortitude to get out of this situation. I ordered the part with an old purchase order. We did get the part quickly but a few weeks later I received a call from the division controller. It is not possible to overstate how furious this guy was with me. He used words I had never heard before. He didn’t seem interested in my wimpy plea that I was ordered to do this sleazy deed by my boss. This phone call had a lasting impression on me and I vowed to maintain high moral standards on the job as I moved forward through my career. Even though there have been a few close calls, I have been able to avoid any ethic issue for over 30 years.

I would like to say the reason for my success is my high moral character, but the truth is I have had some great bosses. What do you if your boss asks you to do something immoral or illegal? The obvious advice is to refuse the request. Unfortunately, life is not so simple. There is a risk of declining an assignment. This risk could reveal itself in the termination of employment. Taking a stand that results in the quick loss of a job is not always the best course of action. This is especially true if you are the sole provider for your household. Still, what should we do, living under the thumb of an unethical boss is a miserable and risky life. Potential paths of action depend on your situation. If you work at an ethical company that provides a safe avenue to report questionable behavior, even though there remains some risk, I suggest taking this path. I was fortunate to work for many years at one of the most ethical companies in the industry. If there is not trusted way to report unethical behavior of a supervisor without fear of reprisal or retaliation, you will have to pursue a different path.

If you are stuck working for an unethical boss, the objective should be to get away from the situation. You may not be able to do this immediately meaning you will have to live with the flawed character for a while. Once you have the feeling that your boss is unethical, you should begin the steps of trying to find another job. Since looking for a job can take a while, there is a chance the unethical boss will be removed. In the end, unethical bosses are eventually ejected, sometimes it seems to take forever. During the young and impatient days of my career, I had a coworker tell me that “sanity will prevail.” This was sage advice and I have seen unethical situations resolve themselves simply by waiting them out.

I have always been fascinated by the story of Enron. This is a tale of how greed and an obsession for power corrupted an entire corporation and delivered a devastating financial impact to millions of people. Even in this morass of perverted immorality, there were a few people who were able to hang on to their ethics and blow the whistle on the corruption. For a glimpse into one of the darkest stories in American corporate culture, I recommend reading The Smartest Guy in the Room.

Chances are you will find yourself working for an unethical boss at some point during your career. The most important steps are to recognizes the unethical situation and begin moving away. It may take some time to extradite yourself from the situation but as long as you are moving away, you are on the right path. Another suggestion is to find a trusted person in which you can confide about the situation. I recommend approaching and experienced person with no connections your employment. Also, never underestimate the value of an ethical boss. As a potential employee, questions should be asked to find out the ethics of a future boss when going through the interview process. Is your current boss ethical? If so great, enjoy the peace that comes with a boss of strong character! If not, start planning to move away, a lack of ethics will eventually come out into the light. When the honest facts are clear, you don’t want to be part of the problem, you want to be part of the solution.

Make the most of this day!