Pay Now or Later?

Life can be summed up as a series of payments and rewards. Each choice you make includes both elements. You will always get some reward for your choices and you will always pay the price. Whether the rewards are worth the price is one of the big questions of your life.

chocolate cake

Every choice we make has a price and a payoff, a cost and a reward. Many times, the question we face is, “Do I want to pay now or later?”

For example, when a piece of chocolate cake is presented to me, I pay now (turn it down and miss the pleasure of the cake) or pay later (sugar crash is 3-4 hours and also wake up a little bit fatter tomorrow). Before you quit reading, let me assure you, this is not an anti-cake post. In fact, I have a chocolate cake in my fridge right now. This is true of parenting: it’s easier to give your kid what he demands than endure another fit. You can defer that fight. But each time you do, you make the future discipline that much harder, as the child gets more and more accustomed to getting their way.

It applies to leadership as well. It’s tempting to delay confronting a bad attitude employee. And you don’t have to be vulnerable or admit mistakes—you’re the boss. But these choices don’t eliminate the price, they merely delay it to another day—and make the inevitable consequence bigger.

Let me be clear. It’s not always better to pay now. Sometimes we do need to stop a smell the roses. A life lived with our eyes always on tomorrow can lead to a cold, gaunt existence. But it’s not always better to pay later, either. Sometimes we do need to say no to the chocolate cake or have the hard conversation. Managing this tension, I believe, is at the heart of wisdom.

If it’s not clear which choice is best—pay now or pay later—I’d like to offer one principle to help you tip the scales: The deepest pleasures often require a long series of payments. Tweet This

This is one of the reasons I write books. Month after month, pushing my thinking to deeper levels, crafting (and re-crafting) language, and linking concepts and characters into an escalating flow—t’s hard work. And there’s no reward until the entire thing is finished. In late April, my second book will be available for sale. It took four and a half years of payments. (Partly, that’s because it was written on my nights and weekends.) But the deep satisfaction of having written something meaningful like that is worth it.

When I compare that price of writing with the alternative—lifelong regret, knowing that I had a book in me that I never wrote—the years of work are not as big a price as the next forty years of regret.

When in doubt, pay the price now and you’ll always pay less. Tweet This

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Scott WozniakPay Now or Later?

The 3 Big Forces of Innovation

How many consultants does it take to deliver a presentation? Last October the answer was three. The topic was so big and so cool–the future of customer experiences–that me and two of my good friends teamed up to give talk on the various forces creating the next chapter in serving customers.

It went well, so much that we were asked to record a follow up conversation and unpack those ideas further. And that conversation (enhanced with some graphics) is linked below. It’s an unscripted, free-for-all around leaders and innovation and the future.

Practical Notes:

  • Hearing the original talk isn’t necessary, the interviewer does a great job of making it clear what we’re talking about.
  • The first 49 seconds promote another conference, and then we start the dialogue.
  • You can download the file and play it later if you don’t have time now (it’s 34 min).
  • While the graphics are a cool supplement, feel free to play only the audio if that’s easier.

If this was interesting to you, then block your calendar for a live webinar on the innovation process with me and Scott Reese, next Tue, Feb 2nd at 5pm EST. I’ll send the official registration link for that soon.

ICXA – Phoenix Promotion – Interview 1 from ICX Association on Vimeo.

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Scott WozniakThe 3 Big Forces of Innovation

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude demands a response. ~Jay Kimsey

Today, I pray all our hearts will be full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Well, maybe self-control can wait until AFTER we eat.


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Scott WozniakHappy Thanksgiving!

Ride (And Lead) Based On The Situation (Cowboy Leadership #2)

When I rode a horse a little while ago, I not only had a blast, I saw parallels to good riding and good leadership. I learned right away I needed to partner with my horse (I explored that in my previous post). Once we had been on the trail a little bit, our guide (his official title was “wrangler”—now that’s a sweet title to add to your resume) taught us about the different gaits, or speeds, that horse moves at. He explained that we would need to change the way we rode based on the gait of the horse.

Lost Valley Ranch - Scott riding on the trailWhen walking, he said, just sit snug in the saddle and enjoy it. But when the horse starts to trot (like a jog for a human) you need to “post”. Posting involves standing in your stirrups and rising above the saddle, but doing so in a rhythmic pattern that aligns with the up and and down of the horse as it trots. And when in a lope or canter, when the horse starts running, we were told to roll with it, but press our backside into the saddle, to resist coming out of the saddle.

This is just like great leadership. There isn’t just one style that’s right for all situations. When leading beginners you stay close and give lots of direction. When they get more experienced you have to back off and only engage at certain points. And if a crisis comes and we need to run, you need to stay close, but be willing to roll with the changes and not try to control your followers.

Great leaders don’t use one approach, they lead each individual how that person needs to be led. Tweet This read more

Scott WozniakRide (And Lead) Based On The Situation (Cowboy Leadership #2)

Losing The Lemon Scent (Lemonade Lessons 5)

Making lemonade in a Chick-fil-A restaurant taught me a lot. I’ve written posts sharing those lemonade lessons (Walk A Mile In Their Non-Slip Shoes, The Secret Recipe, Green Lemons, Little Things Matter). This post is on what I learned from what I didn’t experience.
flower sniffinI love the smell of lemons. The sharp tangy scent makes me smile. When I was assigned to make lemonade (which involved slicing real lemons, of course), I was glad because I thought I would get to enjoy the smell of lemons while I worked. But after a little while, I realized I couldn’t smell the lemons anymore. I had  gotten so used to the smell it had faded away.
I don’t know if you’ve experienced this before, but it happens to all of us. Our brains only notice new smells. So when an aroma has been around for a while we stops smelling it. The fragrance is still in the air, but we aren’t aware of it anymore. This phenomenon helped me during my high school sports. The first few minutes in the boys locker room were…pungent. But by the time I’d changed into my athletic clothes I couldn’t smell anything off at all.
Losing the lemon smell got me thinking, as I carefully lined up the knife and cut the next lemon, how many other things in our lives we just get used to. What else fills the air around that we fail to notice? What stressful relationships have become normal to us? What physical ailments do we think are normal?
I thought back to when I realized that being constantly tired had become normal to me. I couldn’t remember not being tired. But when I finally listened to my wife and visited the doctor I was diagnosed with medical exhaustion. Thankfully it was fixable. Today, I shudder at the idea that I could have lived the rest of my life exhausted and thought it was normal.
What have you gotten used to? What could be holding you back? Just because you don’t notice something doesn’t mean it’s not affecting you. Tweet This Get an outside perspective, change your environment, and don’t settle for your normal anymore.

photo credit: flower sniffin’ via photopin (license)

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Scott WozniakLosing The Lemon Scent (Lemonade Lessons 5)

Little Things Matter (Lemonade Lessons 4)

After I finished making lemonade in a Chick-fil-A kitchen (corporate staff are encouraged to spend time in a restaurant throughout the year) I was asked to offer samples of one of our new products to customers, Frosted Lemonade.
frosted lemonade sample traySo I made sample cups of the new lemonade ice cream treat. But I was stopped before I could leave the kitchen. Someone grabbed a lemon, cut it in half, and placed it on my sampling tray. “That way they’ll know what kind of treat you’re sampling,” he said with a smile.
And just like that the experience jumped to another level. Because little things can make a big difference. Tweet This You don’t have to work twice as hard as others or have twice the talent. One extra touch at the right time and the right place can be enough to shift you from average to special.
What little things could you add to how you treat those around you today?
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Scott WozniakLittle Things Matter (Lemonade Lessons 4)

Storytelling for Leaders

This fall, I attended Story In Business, a 1-day seminar taught by Robert McKee, the guru of story. At 73 years old, he’s profound, charismatic, funny, and also pretty salty. (He curses like a sailor when he gets worked up.)

I’ve been to the 4-day seminar that has made him famous so I knew that McKee understood stories. At this event, I was delighted to discover he also understood business and leadership. I took lots of notes: 4,681 words to be precise (not counting the diagrams). I thought you’d appreciate me highlighting a few of my favorites insights rather that go through them line by line. 🙂

The mind is a natural receptor for story. If you can put your info in a story form, people will respond and act on it.

Above all else, leaders must make meaning out of chaos to other people. If you cannot make sense of the complex forces inside and outside of your organization, they will not follow you.

Story is the struggle to put life back into balance.

Story begins with a balanced life. A starting event throws things out of balance. Our instinct as humans is to restore the balance. So the core character focuses on something that, if the core character could get it, would put life back into balance.

This raises questions in the audience: How will this turn out? Will the character get what they want? If so, will it get them back to the balance they want? 

How many rotten films have you sat through to get the answer to these questions? 🙂
No matter how clever the camera work and music, a car being pieced together is a process, not a story.
The history of a family, no matter how admirable they are, is a list of events, not a story.

It’s about drawing the audience into empathy with the core character. 

They are enough like me therefore I want that character to get what they want (if I were that person in those circumstances I’d want it, too). When people root for the core character, they are actually rooting for themselves. This is why a story told well is so powerful.
Today people so identify with characters in fiction that you can lose a friend by rejecting a story they fell in love with. “The Piano” caused more divorce in America than any other specific film I know. [He made a handful of colorful comments about family, politics, morality…let’s just say he’s a cynic.]

Emotion is the side effect of change.

Business people these days are afraid of negative communication, from internal (“we’ve got a problem”) to external (telling customers about the dangers). All positive with no real problems produces no real emotion. Emotion is generated when people move from negative to positive (or vice versa). So the more powerful the change the stronger the emotion—the worse the negative the stronger the emotion when it’s solved.

Strategy is a reality story told between co-decision makers at the top of the pyramid of power.

There was so much more I wanted to include but deleted to keep this post reasonably brief. I’d highly recommend attending any of his conferences (with the caveat that they’re rated PG-13 for language).


What stories do you need to tell better?

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Scott WozniakStorytelling for Leaders

Thinking Gray

I read my first leadership seventeen years ago and I still remember it vividly: sitting outside, back against a fence, literally turning the pages as fast as I could with my heart pounding. Sadly, I’m not exaggerating. 🙂 But even though the book inspired me, nothing from that book actually drives my day to day leadership. All sizzle and no steak.

However, other leadership books I’ve read since permanently changed the way I lead and live. The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership by Steven Sample has several power and practical ideas. 

The one I probably use most: Thinking Gray

Our human instinct is to decide what we think about something right away. I agree. I don’t like it. She’s right and he’s wrong. But Sample challenged me to unnaturally reserve my judgement—to not form an opinion until I have to decide. Yes, not deciding at all is poor leadership. But deciding too soon is also poor leadership.

How many times have you heard someone share their story of injustice and decided the other guy was a jerk—only to later learn the other side of the story and change your mind? I’ve had that happen with my kids so many times I lost count. And I’ve had it at work and at church and with my friends.

How do you respond when you watch the news? Hear your family members complain about someone else? Learn about a decision someone else at your company made? My normal response—thanks entirely to practicing this for years now—is to be glad to learn the information, decide not to decide yet. 

Thanks to this, when I do need to make a decision, I hold the data I have lightly, knowing it’s likely not the whole story. I do make decisions—lots of them, but you might be surprised (like I was) how much of life never actually requires me to make a decision about it. (The news, my crazy relative, what another department in the company is doing—most of these things may never need me to form an opinion about whether they’re right or wrong). Deciding is mental work (many scientific studies show this). The energy loss and stress I avoid by not choosing sides on those items is pretty significant. It gives me more time and energy to make the decisions that do matter.

Thinking gray requires restraint and humility, but it’s saved me from many, many poor decisions.

What area of your life could thinking gray help you be wiser?
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Scott WozniakThinking Gray

How to Read a Book (book review)

You’d think I already know how to read with all the book reviews I’ve written, so why did I read a book title How To Read A Book? I did love the irony of the title–it could have been the world’s most unhelpful book. If you can’t read, how does a book on reading help? 🙂

Thankfully, it turned out to be a very useful book. This book has been in continuous print since the 1940’s and I see why.

Adler describes four levels of reading. The first level, what he calls elementary reading, refers to understanding the words on the page. But that was a short section because that’s not what this book is about. 

The second level he calls introductory–basically skimming a book to get the basic idea. This is where many of the modern speed reading techniques get applied. But it was more than speed reading. It was how to get a general understanding of a book by doing things like reading the opening and closing paragraphs of each chapter (where good authors summarize everything for you).

The third level is analytical reading. This is deep, slow, and thoughtful reading. Most of us feel that we must read every book at this level. We have school to thank for this, since those are the only two reading approaches we were taught.

But Adler contends that most of our reading should be fun and quick and that we should only spend the effort do read analytically on a small percentage of books. For fiction, just enjoy it. And for learning books, get an overview before you do anything else. Most books, he says, you shouldn’t do any more—after skimming you’re done. But a few will stir you, intrigue you, and invite you to go deeper. Only these great books warrant the effort of deep, analytical reading.

Deep reading of a mediocre book is a waste of your time.

The final level is what he calls syntopcial reading. You pick a topic and read many books that revolve around that concept. You analyze each book and also compare and contrast between whole books.

I love his core approach. I give 4 rather than 5 stars because he goes into great depth on different kinds of books and adds all sorts of very interesting but totally unnecessary thoughts on things like how to read encyclopedias and why poetry is important to culture and nature of truth found in fiction. Interesting from a philosophical standpoint, but not necessary to the core message of the book.

Ultimately, I feel really empowered after reading this book. I’ll waste a lot less time on mediocre books, now. Also, I’m going to increase my use of book summaries (also called abstracts)—let someone else do the overview work for me, right?

What books on your reading list should you skim? Maybe you should give yourself permission to skim them all.
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Scott WozniakHow to Read a Book (book review)

2nd Easiest Way to Change Your Life – Mini Habits Book Review

His life changed with the “golden pushup”. And I think the insights the author of Mini Habits shared may be the second easiest way to change your life I’ve ever discovered. (Being saved by grace is pretty hard to top.)

How many times have you tried to start doing something you know you should, but ended up quitting? When did you save yourself the time and just give up before starting? Do you still want to exercise regularly? Read more? Pray more? Work on that book/painting/construction project?
Been there. Didn’t do it either. Didn’t get the t-shirt.
A few months back I posted about the morning routine that changed my life. It’s still working. And you might think I’m Mr. Discipline now. But I still struggle to write regularly. That part of my morning routine isn’t going so well. My blog posting is fairly regular (let’s not talk about the second half of September). But I also have a book in the works. I’m not even close to doing that regularly. 
Like most people, I’m trying to carve out enough time and energy to do this right. I’d like at least 30 min, preferably 45 min, to sit and write. But when the time comes to write I’ve either not left enough time for this or don’t have the energy. But Mini Habits says if you want to build a good habit, start small–stupid small. 

The author wanted to get in shape, but even thinking about the 30 min workout he needed to do exhausted him. So one day, one “golden” day, he decided he could at least do 1 pushup. That went so well, that we committed to do 1 pushup ever day. That’s it. But the ease of doing it allowed him to establish a real habit. One day he almost forgot and rolled over in bed to do his pushup right there.

Once the habit was in place he increased the workout. He has applied this Mini Habit approach to many other areas of his life, from writing to eating to reading. And it all changed with what he calls “the golden pushup”. 
It’s a short book, written with lots of humor and energy and so very worth reading. It might change your life. In fact, I started a mini habit the day after I finished it.
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Scott Wozniak2nd Easiest Way to Change Your Life – Mini Habits Book Review