About Lex Sisney

Lex Sisney is an expert at creating breakthroughs in individuals and organizations. He's grown from co-founder and CEO of the world's largest affiliate marketing company to follow his passion as CEO Coach to the world's next generation of expansion-stage companies.

How to Think About Your Health & Diet

I lost 35 pounds and several sizes in three months. I didn’t do it by dieting. I did it by changing the way I eat. There’s a difference.

What led me to this was thinking about my health in a whole new way. After trying to navigate large amounts of conflicting nutritional information and trying on new diets over the years (many of you can relate), I had an insight based on the Organizational Physics principles I teach every day.

I took the Universal Success Formula from Chapter 1 of my book Organizational Physics: The Science of Growing a Business and made a slight modification to the terms. The original formula looks like this:

The Universal Success Formula explains why any system in the universe will fail or succeed.

The Universal Success Formula explains why any system will fail or succeed.

If you’re new to the Universal Success Formula, all you need to know is that any system is acted upon by entropy and will eventually fail unless new energy is added to the system. Once you decrease entropy, the energy available for integration and success increases.

For example, imagine that you have a friend in the hospital. He can’t go out in the world and be successful (high integration) because most of his available energy has to go towards healing his illness (entropy). Once he recovers, entropy will be lower and he’ll have more energy to re-integrate into the world and thrive.

Applying the same concepts to health and diet, the Universal Success Formula can be worded like this:

Health is a function of vitality over entropy.

Health is a function of vitality over entropy.

Think of your health as a highly organized system — body and mind — which is acted upon by entropy over time and fails unless it continues to have new energy sources that you can assimilate. Entropy, in this case, can mean inflammation, congestion, and any other state of less-than-optimal functioning in the body. Vitality is synonymous with integration. It is a state of high energy in which you are thriving in relationship with your environment, continuing to obtain energy from it. When inflammation-related entropy is high, for example, it’s harder to convert new energy sources and vitality is naturally lower.

Put another way, at any given point in time, the body/mind has a finite amount of energy. It must get new energy or fuel from external sources. Food is fuel. Water is fuel. Thought is fuel. Relationships are fuel.

Good fuels are those that the body/mind can easily convert into new energy and that don’t increase entropy in the system. Bad fuels are those that the body and mind can’t convert easily, increasing entropy over time. Like a car with too much gunk in the fuel lines, your body just can’t drive as efficiently. The bottom line is that you want to utilize good fuel sources that don’t cause systemic harm (i.e., increase entropy) and are easy to convert into new energy.

Using this formula as a metaphor, I simply began to assess how foods impacted my energy level and which ones seemed to be contributing to inflammation in my body. When did my blood sugar shoot up or bottom out? When did allergies seem to strike? When did I feel more moody or unusually tired? In this process of trial and error, I also relied on expert opinions about which foods cause inflammation and which ones don’t, using these opinions as suggestions for exploring what works best for me.

I made a 30-day commitment to cut out inflammatory foods. For me, this meant eliminating all grains, sugar, and refined anything. Please note I’m not saying that’s what you should do. Health and diet are a very personal thing. There’s no one-size-fits-all. What I’m saying is that, if you want better health and fitness, you’ll want to eliminate any sources of high entropy from the system and increase your body’s access to good fuels. Period. You can start with expert opinions, but you’ll want to closely observe, first-hand, what works and doesn’t work for you.

In my own journey, after 30 days, I felt great. I had lost some weight and especially a lot of puffiness in my face and waist. I decided to keep going, continuing to pay attention to those things that cause inflammation and eliminating them. It’s now been 5 months and I’m still going strong. It no longer feels like a diet but a new way of living that has increased my vitality and become second nature to me.

I hope this perspective helps you tune in and amp up your own personal journey to health and wellness as well, wherever that path may lead you.


There is a growing body of evidence that points to chronic, low-grade inflammation as a kind of a “unified field” explanation of disease. That is, some researchers now believe that low-grade inflammation is associated with everything from Alzheimer’s and arthritis to diabetes and heart disease, and may even be the cause of most chronic diseases.

If you’re interested in supporting evidence that inflammation is the enemy of good health, you might take a look some sources that I found helpful:

Why You Get Fat (3-minute video and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know this 30 years ago)
Genetic Roulette (documentary on how GMOs cause increased inflammation).
The No-Grain Diet (I read this book 4 or 5 years ago but didn’t have the wherewithal to follow it. Making the connection between entropy and inflammation finally helped me commit to change and it was surprisingly easy. Go figure.)

What’s Wrong with the Golden Circle?

Simon Sinek is the author of Start with Why and the creator of concept he calls “The Golden Circle.” The Ted Talk he gave on the topic is incredibly popular, almost 10 million views as I write this.

The concept of the Golden Circle is simple. It looks like this:

Sinek's Golden Circle hits on some core truths and is almost right.

Sinek’s Golden Circle hits on some core truths and is almost right.

Sinek purports that great organizations seem to create their foundation by first addressing Why they exist, then How they go about their mission, and then finally, What they do. 

Let me say first that I really appreciate what Sinek is doing — inspiring leaders to think about the soulful calling of their organizations and to rally others to a bigger cause beyond just selling widgets. And he does a masterful job of calling out that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it, and that it’s critical to attract customers who believe what you believe. Awesome.

However, the truth is that great organizations build their core ideology by first defining and reinforcing Who they serve and the customer problem or need that they solve in the marketplace. Then they address and reinforce Why they exist, then How they go about their mission, and finally What they do.

So a modified more accurate Golden Circle should really be drawn like this:

Great organizations really begin with Who they serve, then Why, How, and What.

Great organizations really begin with Who they serve, then Why, How, and What.

How do I know? Two reasons:

1) A business doesn’t exist to promote its beliefs. It exists to produce results for its customers (Who it serves). Understanding who your customer really is and the problem or pain they seek to solve is what differentiates a company in the marketplace and keeps it focused on the highest goal — creating customers.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. You get so caught up in your own beliefs — how you think the world should be versus how it really is — that you lose sight of who your customer is and the pain point that they really want solved. That’s why you exist. To solve a need in the marketplace. If you’re not solving needs, then you’re quickly going to go out of business regardless of how inspiring your vision statement is.

2) Leading with Who is what also allows the business to successfully navigate what in his Ted Talk Sinek calls the “Law of Innovation Diffusion.” This law is a term used to describe how innovations spread in the marketplace through a series of unique stages of customer groups. It tends to be depicted in a bell curve like this:

The pattern and chasm of innovation diffusion.

The pattern and chasm of innovation diffusion.

Here again Who is most important. By focusing on the Who you serve, it allows you to understand which customer segment you’re selling to at any given time and to refine/adapt your solutions to meet those customer needs over time.

Knowing which type of customer to pay attention to, and when, also allows you to anticipate and respond to changes in the marketplace and successfully drive new innovations forward. I explain how to do this in detail in Part III of my book: Organizational Physics – The Science of Growing a Business.)

I think Sinek realizes that great organizations begin with Who too. For example, when he says that Tivo should have led their branding with this, “If you’re a person who values having total control of your life, then you’ll love our product”. He’s really calling out the power of starting with Who. Also, his example of Martin Luther King also supports the notion of leading with Who. “I have a dream that all men are created equal.” Dr. King is also focusing on the Who first. Finally, the ultimate point Sinek is trying to make is that people buy what they believe (Who), not what you believe.

To sum up: The reason that your organization should build its foundation on Who is that every business exist to serve the needs of other individuals and organizations in the marketplace, who. Bring “who you serve and the problem or need that you solve” to the forefront of your organization’s consciousness. By doing so, you focus organizational efforts on the most important thing – meeting customer needs – and by monitoring and adapting to those needs, you cause the organization to adapt and innovate over time. And as Sinek points out so well, you must marry the Who with a powerful Why — a set of internal beliefs that all of your marketing and communications flow from within the organization to outside in the world. Think Who. Then Why, How, and What.

The Forgotten Formula of Performance Management

The right formula is pretty damn valuable. Especially for Krabby Patties.

The right formula is pretty damn valuable. Especially for Krabby Patties.

Way back in 1936, the founder of social psychology, Kurt Lewin, came up with a formula to explain individual behavior. I’m going to share it with you…but don’t go running off because it looks complicated. It’s not.

B = f(P,E)

It means this: An individual’s Behavior is a function of that Person’s personality, capabilities, training, experience, etc. and his/her existing Environment.

Makes sense, right?

So what’s the problem? The problem is that most management thinking today seems to have totally forgotten the critical importance of the surrounding environment when it comes to performance management.

Businesses measure and invest tons of money in individual training and skill development. They study and implement crafty new performance incentive programs. They run personality profile tests — all that crap.

But what great organizations do differently compared to the rest is they give equal attention to the inner structure, processes, and core ideology (i.e., the environment) of the organization itself.

The truth is that each of us is governed by the environment in which we live and work. If the surrounding environment is designed well, then a C player is going to look and perform like a B+ player. And if the surrounding environment and opportunity is top-notch, then A players are going to flock to that organization to apply their talents. The corollary is that if the surrounding environment is designed poorly, then even A players are going to show up like C players.

Let me give two examples to drive this point home. One from a famous and controversial study at Stanford and the other from the NFL.

The Stanford Prison Experiment

Environment controls behavior.

Environment controls behavior.

This famous study conducted at Stanford University in 1971 tried to answer the question, “what happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph?” by designing a mock prison experience.

The answer they found is that the environment controls behavior. In fact, the planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended prematurely after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, the guards became sadistic and the prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.

This study is controversial due to a lack of controls and an accused generalization of the results. When the BBC tried to partially replicate the same study, what they found was the importance of leadership in acting as a counterweight against the force of tyranny. That is, a strong and noble leader can make the surrounding environment less destructive.

From my perspective, leadership is critical in setting the right environment. In fact, the entire purpose of leadership is to design the system so that it works well for all concerned and is resilient against tyranny and bureaucracy. Leaders create the environment and the environment shapes the people.

The New England Patriots

If you invest in the system, then you can spot and integrate players who match it.

If you invest in the system, then you can spot and integrate players who match it.

On the lighter side, my favorite football team is the New England Patriots. Why? Because under head coach Bill Belichick, they’ve embodied what it means to create and reinforce a system of performance by focusing equally on player development and creating the right surrounding environment. In fact, if you want to read a great book on a systematic approach to management, read War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team.

Just notice how most unsuccessful NFL teams seem to jump from one big free agent signing after the other but fail to make the leap to the next level. Using Kurt Lewin’s formula above, these loser teams confuse the P with the E. But teams like the Patriots, on the other hand, are always first designing and redesigning their system and philosophy and then look for players who can fill a role within that system and philosophy. It’s an equal recognition of the importance of both P and E.

The same is true for your business. Spend as much time in designing the right environment as you do in recruiting and developing the right people and you’ll double your chances of success.

Who Moved My Cheese and the Four Forces

Truth is truth at any age. This article is for managers who want a better grasp of personality styles and how to quickly read and understand them in themselves and others.

I read Who Moved My Cheese for Kids to my 9-year-old son recently. It’s a fun little book, based on the eponymous bestseller, about four characters who live in a ‘maze’ and look for ‘cheese’ to nourish them and make them happy. You probably know how the story goes already (it was a bestseller) but if not, or you’ve forgotten, here’s a quick synopsis:

Two of the characters are mice named Sniff and Scurry and two are little people – beings the size of mice who look and act a lot like people. Their names are Hem and Haw. The ‘cheese’ is a metaphor for what you want to have in life – whether it’s a good job, a loving relationship, money, possessions, health, or peace of mind. The ‘maze’ is where you look for what you want – the organization you work in, or the family or community you live in.

In the story, the characters are faced with unexpected change. Eventually, one of the little people deals with it successfully, and writes what he has learned from his experience on the maze walls. When you come to see the handwriting on the wall you can discover for yourself how to deal with change, so that you enjoy less stress and more success (however you define it) in your work and life.

There’s a lot of truth in the book and I thought it would be fun to relate the four characters to the four PSIU forces of Organizational Physics. That way, the next time you’re managing a Hem, Haw, Sniff, or Scurry, you’ll have a better sense for how to handle it.

As a refresher, here’s a matrix that shows the traits of the four universal PSIU forces. If this concept is new to you, you can quickly get a sense of it using the world’s fastest personality test (it takes less than 15 seconds to get a good sense of someone’s style).

The four forces of Organizational Physics: PSIU.

The four forces of Organizational Physics: PSIU.

And here are the four Who Moved My Cheese characters mapped to each force:

The characters of Who Moved My Cheese mapped to the four PSIU forces of Organizational Physics.

The characters of Who Moved My Cheese mapped to the four PSIU forces of Organizational Physics.

In a nutshell:

  • Sniff is an Innovator style. He’s got the ability to sense and respond to changes happening in the environment much more quickly than the other styles. He gets excited about creating new things and likes you to get excited with him.
  • Scurry is a Producer style. He’s got the ability to run, run, run and do the work from early to late. He gets frustrated when there are obstacles in his path and seeks to run around them or punch through them.
  • Hem is a Stabilizer style. He’s got the ability to make things systematized and controllable. In the story, it is Hem who gets left behind because change can be seen as a really big threat to someone who excels at control and stability.
  • Haw is a Unifier style. He’s got the ability to empathize and connect well with others. In the story, it is Haw who follows Sniff and Scurry but all the while is concerned about where Hem is and how Hem is doing. Ultimately, Haw leaves the writing on the wall for others like Hem to follow.

Key Takeaways

The main thing I want you to take away is that the four PSIU forces of Organizational Physics are universal. That means they show up in good children’s books and the board room alike. When you learn to spot and understand them, you exponentially increase your own capabilities as a communicator and manager.

The second thing that I want you to take away is that, just as in the story Who Moved My Cheese, the correct approach to managing change is to be on the right side of the matrix above. The Producer and Innovator are both lean-forward styles who excel at sniffing out change and scurrying to make it work in their favor. You too should lean into change rather than lean away from it.

The third thing that I want you to take away isn’t in the story. It’s that the left side of the matrix, the Stabilizer and Unifier, also bring incredible value to the table. They help to make things systematized and efficient and care for others while helping to keep everyone working well as a team.

It takes a complementary team to manage and respond to change. One side without the other is doomed to fail. In other words, all sides — all forces — working in concert towards a common goal are what makes “finding the cheese” truly fun and sustainable over time.

How to Give an Order

Because every time you issue an order to someone you deplete your reserve of authority and you also deplete their reserve of power.

Every time you issue an order to someone, you deplete your reserve of authority and you also deplete their reserve of power.

How should you give an order to your subordinates? It’s pretty easy actually. Don’t.

Instead of thinking that your leadership role means having power over others, think instead of having power with others. Put another way, the order shouldn’t be given by you to them but should come from a shared awareness of the situation itself.

For example, let’s say that you just got word that your company is about to lose a big deal in NYC. You’re the CEO and you’ve called a meeting with the VP of Sales.

The VP of Sales comes into your office and you bark out an order, “Get on a plane to NYC and save that deal. Go!!”

Fast? Yes. Effective? No.

Why isn’t that effective? Because every time you issue an order to someone, you deplete your reserve of authority and you also deplete their reserve of power. Let me explain.

Authority is the authorized right to say “yes” and “no” to something. Clearly, a boss has more authority than their subordinates. But like an artesian well with a fixed amount of water, each time the boss draws upon his or her authority, they take some water from the well. If they keep being “bossy” and playing the authority card, that well will soon run dry and they won’t have any authority left at all.

For example, I have authority over my kids. But if I were to over-play the authority card and issue orders like, “Clean up your room because I’m in charge,” then I’m already doomed. My kids might listen to that once, maybe twice, but soon their reaction is going to be, “So what? You can’t make me. In fact, I think you’re an idiot.”

If I try to revert to even more authority, our relationship will deteriorate faster. I will be constantly issuing orders, following up, and feeling frustrated that those orders are not instantly followed. Thank you, but I prefer being happy and highly effective over being exhausted and unhappy.

Remember, each time you draw on authority, you lose a finite resource. So use it sparingly and only in emergencies.

The other thing that happens when orders get issued is the “orderee” feels a loss of power. Power is the ability to exercise self-determination and creativity, and to help or hinder a situation.

Here’s an example. Think of the last time you were issued an order by an authority figure. Your reaction might have easily been something like, “What a jerk! He’s not even seeing the situation clearly. If I were in charge…then I’d show him.”

Now whether you or the authority figure was right, or the orders were right, is not the point at all. The point is that, instead of thinking creatively and objectively about the problem and finding breakthrough solutions, you reacted negatively to the simple act of being given an order. You felt less powerful and, if you did follow through on the order, didn’t you do just enough to meet the letter of the law, without exercising your full creative power? I would venture to bet so.

Each time an order is given, both the order-giver and the order-taker lose. The order-giver loses authority and the order-taker loses power.

The right way to give an order is not to give an order at all. Instead, make sure that respective accountabilities are clear and then draw out the facts and viewpoints on the situation itself so that the former “order-taker” naturally creates and accepts his/her own order and follows through with self-determination and creativity.

Let’s go back to the pending loss of a big deal in NYC. Instead of an order like, “Get on a plane now!”, here is a mutually-respectful dialogue on the situation itself:

CEO: “I heard that we’re about to lose the big NYC deal. Is that true?”
VP Sales: “It’s 50/50. I just put in a call to our champion and she says it’s down to pricing.”
CEO: “What do you think we need to do to win the deal?”
VP Sales: “I’m not sure yet. I’m on a flight to NYC tonight to meet with them and figure out if it’s really a pricing issue or if that’s a red herring. I’ve got a meeting scheduled tomorrow morning with their decision makers.”
CEO: “Anything I can do to support you?”
VP Sales: “Yeah, can you put in a call to their Chairman and let them now how important this account is for us and how we’ll go the extra mile?”
CEO: “You got it. I’ll call him right after this and will let you know how it goes. Anything else?”
VP Sales: “No, just trust that I’m on it and will do my very best.”
CEO: “I know it. Keep me posted.”

It’s obviously a simple dialogue but the right spirit is there. Will they get the deal? Who knows. But their chances of getting the deal are significantly higher than if the CEO was barking orders. The VP of Sales feels her power intact and is thinking and acting in a creative and self-determined way, and the CEO isn’t depleting her authority to get it done.

Mary Parker Follett, one of the world’s pioneering management thinkers, said it perfectly back in 1924: “Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power, but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led.” It’s just as true now as it was then.

The next time you find yourself about to give an order, stop yourself. Instead, ensure that accountabilities are clear, assess the facts and viewpoints together, and allow the right order to flow from the situation itself.

Don’t Measure Your Wrists for Golden Handcuffs

Don't measure yourself for golden handcuffs or you might just get stuck wearing them.

Don’t measure yourself for golden handcuffs or you might just get stuck wearing them.

A Little Book of f-laws is a free collection of 13 common sins of management by management consultants Ackoff, Addison, and Bibb.

One f-law in particular stands out for me as something that’s all too true. It’s about the tendency to measure and focus on the wrong things because they are easy to track.

Instead, what we should focus on — in business and in life — is identifying what it is that we truly do want, even if it’s hard to measure.

In a society that seems to excel at measuring and celebrating empty accomplishments, it’s a great f-law to keep top of mind:

“Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure.

For example, those who want a high quality of work life but don’t know how to measure it, often settle for wanting a high standard of living because they can measure it. The tragedy is that they come to believe that quality of life and standard of living are the same thing. The fact is that further increases to an already high standard of living often reduce quality of life.

Unfortunately and similarly, the (unmeasurable) quality of products or services is taken to be proportional to their (measurable) price. The price of a product or service, however, is usually proportional to the cost of producing it, not to its quality; and this cost tends to be proportional to the relative incompetence of the organization that produces it.

Like economists, managers place no value on work they do not pay for because they can’t measure it. Work that has no quantifiable output includes some of the most important work that is done, for example, raising children and maintaining a home. On the other hand, economists place a high value on work that destroys value, because the cost of such work can be measured. Hence the paradox: a prolonged war is a very good way of raising gross national product but reducing quality of life.

When it comes to life goals it’s even more basic than that. Managers don’t know what they want because they never think about it. One executive told his psychotherapist he was depressed because he felt he wasn’t successful. To the therapist he looked successful: good job, great salary, lovely family and beautiful home.

She asked how he would know when he was successful. He couldn’t answer. He just kept on striving without knowing what he was striving for. But I agree that, if they get as far as measuring, the measurement is usually quantitative and limited to how much they earn. Certainly the more they earn and the more their standard of living rises the more their quality of life drops. They become trapped by golden handcuffs.

In the workplace it’s also true that managers will measure anything that can be quantified in order to be able to set targets. Training is a great example. Many companies measure numbers of days training and numbers of people trained. If the goal is to do lots of training then that’s a good measurement. But the goal ought to be to develop the workforce to become more skilled.

The best organizations explicitly develop employees to fulfil their potential and even advise them on finding jobs outside the organization, if that’s what it takes. Measuring skills is harder. It takes time and commitment and, often, the value of training cannot be quantified. How astonishing that such ‘input’ measures continue to be accepted as valid even though they are value-less.”

Apple: Where the Money Goes in One Awesome Chart

Data is for Q4 2012. See Asmyco.com for source and notes.

Two things that I love about this chart:

  1. First, it’s just a great visual representation. All data should be so beautiful.
  2. It reflects how Apple truly is an ecosystem company. Note that even though the revenue of hardware sales dwarfs the combined sales of digital services (i.e., music, apps, and software sales which are still huge in their own right), it is these digital services that extend the Apple ecosystem and make it large and vibrant. And of course, the larger and more vibrant the ecosystem, the more value it creates.

You can see the same “ecosystem economics” in another great brand — Amazon. Both Amazon and Apple are in the business of getting customers into their ecosystem by creating value to customers, and then consistently reducing the friction for new transactions to occur.

Once you buy a Kindle, or sign up for Amazon Prime, there’s very low friction for you to make future purchases (i.e, it’s easy for Amazon to extract new energy in the form of money, brand clout, and capabilities from its surrounding ecosystem). And just like a Lion prefers hunting grounds with lots of Antelope, the more digital services each brand offers, the more consumers desire to be a part of that ecosystem.

Keep this concept in the front of your mind when you’re scaling your own business — think in terms of creating ecosystem economics around a core value proposition where there’s low transaction friction and high customer engagement over time. Don’t be a product company. Be a systems company.

Greening the Deserts: Systems Thinking for Climate Change and Business Growth

“It’s possible to rehabilitate large-scale damaged ecosystems.”
– John D. Liu

“Green Gold” is a film documentary about how farming cultures in Africa, Asia, and South America are reclaiming once fertile land from the desert. I’m inspired to share it for three very important reasons:

It’s a great synopsis of systems thinking in action. Small changes have big repercussions. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction… even continents away. And every part of the global system is interconnected and interdependent with the rest. Once you set up the ecosystem the right way, it organically grows, prospers, and flourishes over time. In the words of an expert interviewed in the film, “The world gets more and more complicated all the time, but the solutions to fix the world’s ecosystems remains relatively simple.” The same thing is true for your business growth. If it seems complicated, the solutions are simple. Be a systems thinker, eliminate entropy, apply the right force of change, know what steps to take next. Design your system or business so that it can scale organically…even without your direct involvement.

It’s a wonderful example of an individual leveraging his strengths and passions to solve a big problem in the world. The filmaker, John D. Liu, is one of the world’s foremost experts on ecosystem reconstruction. But guess what? By background, he’s just a contract documentary filmmaker. John has no formal training in ecology, biology, farming, or permaculture. He stumbled across a solution to the complex global problem of desertification. Seeing solutions that work and inspired to take action, he learned what he needed to learn while leveraging his talents of filmmaking and curiosity. This is a very powerful example of Your Genius Zone in action.

It inspires positive, concrete action in the face of accelerating climate change. According to the UN, some two billion people depend on ecosystems in dry land areas, 90% of whom live in developing countries. The scientific consensus is that the rate of desertification is increasing around the world. As this map shows, it’s a pretty big fucking deal:


So doesn’t it make sense to invest in restoring once vibrant ecosystems? The techniques are simple. The dividends are long-term and catalyze a positive impact on every aspect of society — food and water availability, renewed harmony with the land, quality of life – and act as a powerful counterweight to climate change. As they ask in the film, “If it’s possible to restore large-scale damaged ecosystems, then why don’t we do just that?”

Quit Being So Hard On Yourself

If you’re feeling like your business will never scale, quit it. Just look at the humble beginnings of some of the world’s most iconic brands below. Then remind yourself that nothing is more powerful than consistency of vision and action sustained over time.

The 1st Disneyland

The original Disneyland.

The 1st Google


The 1st Walmart


The 1st Apple


The 1st Coke Bottling Plan


The 1st Nike


The 1st Kinkos


The secret to scaling your business is to design it so that you play to your personal strengths and passions. Doing so allows you to be naturally consistent in your vision and actions over time, even against seemingly impossible odds. Then, when others look at what you’ve created over the past 10, 20 or 30 years, it’s hard for them to even conceive of the humble beginnings in which you began.

In this regard, be like Walt Disney, Larry Page, Sam Walton, Steve Jobs, John Pemberton, Phil Knight, and Paul Orfela. Don’t fight against yourself. Be true to yourself and design a business model to support it.

When Ted Lost Control of Its Crowd

Nilofer Merchant speaking at Ted.

Nilofer Merchant speaking at Ted.

Nilofer Merchant (who I think is a smart and savvy systems thinker) wrote a piece for HBR recently titled When Ted Lost Control of Its Crowd.

It’s a good synopsis of how Ted diluted it’s brand by creating licensed TedX events around the world with little or no control as to the quality and content of the speakers at those events. Then she explains the steps Ted took to address it.

You can avoid this same mistake in your own business by thinking through how to manage/engage “with the crowd” without causing a catastrophe failure to the brand (as almost happened and could still happen to Ted).

The goal of the model I’m going to share is to clarify what should remain “closed” and proprietary to the system and what should be “open” and have more freedom and autonomy.

Here’s what you do. Draw a horizontal arrow with the words “open/autonomy” on the left and “close/protect” on the right:

“Open/Autonomy” <-------------------------------------------------------------> “Close/Protect”

Next, list the functions of your organization (i.e., sales, engineering, marketing, strategy, product development, finance, admin, operations, etc.) and place those functions on a continuum following these rules:

1) Functions that can cause systemic harm should be placed on the right side of the arrow. I.e., the greater the systemic risk, the farther to the right they get placed and the more centralized control is placed on them.

2) Functions that are closest to the customer and require flexibility/adaptability to thrive should be placed on the left side of the arrow. I.e., the “closer” to the customer, the farther left they get placed and the more decentralized autonomy they have.

For example, the function of Strategic Marketing (the act developing new markets, and developing and protecting the brand) should be placed more to the right. That’s easy to understand because if a company was to choose the wrong market strategy or engage in activities that harm it’s brand, it’s a systemic risk. The business can quickly lose everything.

But a function like Community Engagement (the act of engaging with and listening to it’s brand constituents) should be placed more to the left. Why? Because this function is very close to the customer. If you try to control this messaging, you get Corporate PR Gobbleygook that doesn’t serve the brand. You put up to many obstacles that prevent the company from actively listening and responding to the market in an authentic way. Different functions. Different placement on the continuum of control vs openness.

Now to TedX. Where TedX got off track is that it treated Strategic Marketing like an open/autonomous function when it should be treated like a closed/protected function. Then, to compensate, it treated Community Engagement like a closed/protected function (blathering PR corporate speak) when it should be an open/autonomous function.

As Nilofer’s article points out, Ted finally got ahead of the problem when they started to treat Strategic Marketing like the closed/protected function it should be (i.e., they rolled out a manifesto and rules to protect the brand) and they started treating Community Engagement like the open/autonomous function it should be (i.e, they allowed a voice of authority to speak authentically with the community and “listen loudly.”)

However, unless Ted wants to have more brand diffusion in the future, they’ll want to put a more structured vetting process in place on all Ted events, including TedX. Otherwise, the same brand diffusion will begin to occur after the current dust storm as settled.

This doesn’t have to be onerous, and if it’s designed right, it could be a catalyst for a new energy and a revitalized Ted brand. For example, The Ted vetting process could be done by crowd sourcing from active Ted/Tedx participants (further engaging the community) but with final approval from centralized Ted Marketing Strategy function. I.e., the crowd votes on the topics and speakers they want to hear from at TedX and Ted, while Ted has ultimate veto power but would use it only judiciously and to defend the brand or to guide its strategic direction.

In any case, you can avoid these problems in your own business by taking the time to think through which functions should have more openness/autonomy and which functions should have more control/protection.

There are other rules to follow of organizational structure and design and if you’re interested in learning them, you can do so here: “The 5 Classic Mistakes in Organizational Structure; Or, How to Design Your Organization the Right Way.

Quietly Appreciate Others Strengths


There are few things that will bring as much power and benefit to your personal and professional life as the practice of quietly appreciating the strengths of others.

To drive this point home, I’d like you to recall a time in your past when you weren’t accepted for who you are. Maybe this was within your family of origin, in a work setting, at school, or even on a sports team. C’mon, I know you have at least one period in your life like this. When was it?

From your vantage point today, wasn’t that experience exhausting? Didn’t you spend more time and energy worrying if you’d ever fit in than you did on working towards your goal? Didn’t that period in your life pretty much suck?

You’re not alone. A recent Gallup Research poll shows that employees who feel accepted by their managers and peers feel highly engaged in their jobs while those who get negative feedback (or even worse — are ignored all together) are actively disengaged:

Source: Gallup Research.

Source: Gallup Research.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that higher engagement leads to higher productivity, creativity, and job performance. When we don’t feel accepted for who we are and we don’t have the opportunity to play to our strengths, it costs us a tremendous amount of energy and saps our productivity and morale.

By the way, I think this experience is pretty common for entrepreneurs. Many of us felt like we didn’t fit into the existing structures and so we create our own. But that’s for another story.

Now I’d like you to imagine something different. You’re a fly on the wall at ACME Corp. ACME is an average-performing company with an average culture.

From your vantage point on the wall, you observe that, while everyone is professional and polite on the surface, they seem more focused on what’s happening within the company itself than in how to kick ass in the marketplace.

Specifically, you notice an undercurrent of subtle “shoulds” that the colleagues at ACME hold towards each other. True, nothing really damaging is said outright. It’s usually couched in language like this:

  • “Sure, Sam is a visionary but he can’t manage his way out of a paper bag. He should be more detail-focused and a little less erratic.”
  • “Sarah is a great programmer but she’s moody as hell and only works on what she wants to work on. She should be more of a team player.”
  • “Yes, Mark is a good project manager but he’s not really in tune with where the market is headed. What we really need is break-out thinking.”
  • “Linda is smart as a whip but she’s a bulldozer. I wish she were more aware of how she impacts those around her.”

Can you spot the “shoulds” in this dialogue? This occurs anytime we want or expect someone to be different than they are. Obviously, this mindset is NOT unique to companies like our fictional ACME.

When was the last time you heard yourself say something like the above about someone you work with, either silently to yourself or in conversation with others? I bet it was pretty recent. I do it. We all do it. In fact, we’ve been so conditioned to find and focus on others’ weaknesses or what they don’t do well enough that it’s hard to even see anything wrong with it.

So what is wrong with it exactly? It’s that wanting others to be different than they are is a colossal waste of energy. We all know that people are who they are! No amount of wishing or complaining is going to change that fact. The only thing that can change another person is that person.

If we wish, prod, cajole, expect, demand, incentivize, or “should” another person into being different than they are, this just creates resistance. We all crave acceptance – and acceptance lowers resistance. When we feel accepted, we feel empowered to focus on our goals, to develop and evolve, and to contribute the maximum to the shared cause. Not because we have to, but because we want to.

Have you ever been in a partnership or on a team without “shoulds”? Where each member recognizes and accepts the others strengths and each plays to their respective strengths? It’s pretty damn fantastic. The communication is smooth, the work is outstanding, and the experience is fulfilling.

You can unlock that same experience by committing to practicing the full acceptance of others and appreciating their strengths. You might be saying, “OK, great, how do I do that?” The model I like a lot is called PSIU or “PS I love U.” It’s a powerful and pervasive approach to quickly identifying and appreciating another’s strengths and you can quickly learn it here.

But what I really want you to do is just hear me on this: When you notice yourself judging or “shoulding” someone else, just STOP. Simply recognize that they are who they are. They have strengths. Emerson said it so well: “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” What are this person’s strengths? What are they naturally exceptional at? Just quietly notice and appreciate those strengths.

Why quietly? You don’t need to run around out there in the world all pollyanna-ish, complimenting people left and right like a wind-up toy. Just quietly hold the space that everyone you meet has strengths. Learn to spot them. Be open to them. People will respond in surprising and positive ways. They’ll act differently and think differently. Why? Because you’re giving them the energetic space to be comfortable in their own skin.

When you put this into practice, it not only greatly adds to the richness and enjoyment of your own life, it also improves the performance, productivity, and teamwork of everyone you work with. In fact, if just a few of your co-workers embodied this mindset with you, it could be the catalyst for reducing internal friction and increasing market performance.

The bottom line: Appreciate others strengths! Make it a mantra. Make it a mind set. Teach it to your co-workers. Teach it to your kids. Maya Angelou had it right when she said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Get started right now. Go find someone — anyone — and just quietly appreciate their strengths for 15 seconds. You’ll be amazed at the change in you and in them. Onward. Upward.

If you’ve got questions or comments on how to apply this concept, just ask away in the comments section and I’m happy to answer.

Reading Tea Leaves: The Most Important Question to Ask When Doing Strategic Planning


“Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.”
– Peter Drucker

When was the last time you got away from the office to take a good, long look at the trends that will likely impact your business, customers, and suppliers in the next five years?

I’m willing to bet that it’s been too long. With so many pressing demands on your time, energy, and focus right now, it can feel nearly impossible to step away from the day-to-day and invest some serious thought cycles in what might happen over the long term.

Of course, you already know that the best leaders and executives do actually invest the time and energy in thinking about and anticipating the future, and they do so on a regular basis. You also know from experience that, when you do step away from the day-to-day to really think, it turns out to be time very well spent indeed.

So what should you be thinking about when you’re doing strategic planning? MBA programs have something called a PESTEL analysis for strategic planning. With it, you look at what’s happening in the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, and Legal environments and how anticipated changes will impact your business, customers, and suppliers. I can’t argue that these are reasonable sectors to examine and reflect on when thinking about your strategy. However, the PESTEL analysis also totally misses the most important factor to address!

When doing strategic planning, the most important question to ask is this: “DEMAND: Will there be more or less demand for what we do five years from now?” This is the most important question because, as I explain in detail in the book Organizational Physics: The Science of Growing a Business the goal of every business is to align unique capabilities with growing market opportunities (you want to be in top right “Happy” quadrant below):


(If you want to learn more about this diagram and how to integrate it into your planning, see Part III, Chapter 9 of my book: Organizational Physics: The Science of Growing a Business).

Never Misread the Environment

The greatest mistake a leader can make is to misread the environment. The reasons are self-evident. If, in the future, there’s going to be less demand for what you do now, then you need to be acting on this now to steer yourself into a growing sector. If you can’t find a growth sector, it’s just a matter of time until there’s no business at all. Or, if the environment zigs to a new growth opportunity, but you’ve zagged the company in the other direction, you’re pretty much out of luck. The environment trumps all, so you’ve got to pay attention and read it correctly.

Of course, there other important questions to ask when scanning the environment. To have a holistic, full-picture view of the environment, there are seven factors in all – including the most important one, Demand – that you need to examine when doing strategic planning:

Demand What changes are occuring within the market today that could siginificantly impact demand for your products and services, as well as how they are marketed and delivered, in the future? Are you weakly or strongly positioned to capitalize on these trends?
Competition The competitive factors to consider are the number and capabilities of the perceived practical alternatives of the future. Will there be more or fewer competitors? Will they be stronger or weaker? How will your company differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace?
Economic Economic factors to consider include consumers’ level of disposable income and overall economic confidence. Also consider the economic growth rate, the exchange rate, the inflation rate, and the unemployment rate. Will labor costs be higher or lower? What about the labor supply?
Regulatory Some Regulatory factors to consider are laws relating to the environment, health and safety, antitrust, and labor. Also consider changes in the type of government, the level of political change vs. stability, and the amount of regulation/deregulation. How will tariffs, tax policy, and trade restrictions impact your business? Will there be more corruption or less? Will there be more bureaucracy and red tape or less?
Technological Will the rate of technological change continue to increase? What emerging technologies now will radically shape the future? Will there be more automation or less? More complexity or less? More integration or less? How will these trends impact your business?
Ecological The ecological environment is literally the planet that we all rely on for our sustenance and livelihoods. Will there be increasing or decreasing stress on the ecological environment in the future, and how will this impact your business?
Social How will the population growth rate change? What about the age distribution in the markets in which you operate? What about health and community consciousness? Feelings of fear or safety? Societal infrastructures like healthcare and education? What about attitudes towards work and employment patterns? Attitudes towards certain companies or industries? Will any cultural taboos emerge or go away?

Instant Strategic Planning

The hard part of strategic planning is that the needs of today always overpower the needs of tomorrow, so finding the time and energy to do strategic planning can feel like a luxury. The best way to do it is with a coach or someone outside the business who has an independent perspective and can reinforce a rhythm for doing it consistently.

Still, there will come crisis situations in your career when you need to instantly focus on the big picture. And guess what? The factor of Demand allows you to do a 1-question strategic assessment. Everything else can be considered a luxury.

For example, many years ago I was part of a board of directors that was trying to navigate an online advertising business through a stock market collapse. The company had just reached cash flow profitability and had a long and growing list of satisfied customers. At the same time, the stock market implosion was causing the entire country to feel panic and question the future. There was a low-ball offer on the table from a strategic acquirer. The board felt like the right thing to do was to take the offer.

When there’s panic and fear, it’s hard to see things clearly. I wish then that I had had the awareness to pierce the veil of fear and simply ask: “Hey guys, wait a minute. Sure, the stock market is collapsing but let me ask you this: Is there going to be more demand or less demand for online advertising in the future? If there’s going to be less demand, let’s exit this business. If there’s going to be more demand, then we should say ‘no’ to this offer and leverage our unique position and capture it.” I didn’t have that awareness then and we sold the business prematurely. But hey, at least I got some good learning and a blog post out of it.

You can learn from my mistakes and, the next time panic sets in, just take a moment to look at the long view and ask that one question: “Will there be more or less demand for what we’re doing in the future?” It will serve you well.

3 Questions to Ask When You’re Stuck in a Rut


The next time you notice yourself stuck in a rut — or any time you feel like you’re not experiencing sustained momentum towards your goals — ask yourself three important questions:

1) Am I certain this is what I want?
2) Am I expecting to get it?
3) Am I open to receiving it in new and unexpected ways?

I was reminded of these questions at a lecture I attended recently by Dr. Larkin of the Applied Neuroscience Institute. His talk was a reminder that, when you listen to and act on your inner answers to these questions, you can snap right out of a rut and get back on the road. Here’s why these questions are more powerful than you might think:

1) Am I certain this is what I want?

This is a big one. Do you really want this thing? If so, why? Oftentimes we find ourselves pursuing things because we think we have to, not because we really want to. You can’t fight against yourself, so stop trying. It just won’t work.

The hard part can be discerning what it is you truly want – and often feeling trapped by circumstances, or the belief that can’t have what you truly want. Neither of these is true. You know in your heart what it is you truly want (versus what your family, friends, the “experts,” or the media tell you to want). Ultimately, it’s a question of how clear you are on your true desire and how committed you are to making it happen. The key here is getting in touch with your higher-order goal.

Let me explain. For the past several weeks I’ve had a goal to do a dozen pre-recorded webinars. It’s been one frustrating circle jerk of incompletions.

First I wrote the scripts. Partially. Then I changed gears and started designing the power points. Again, only in part. Then I decided to hire a videographer to help me. Then I realized I wasn’t clear on my overall strategy so I canceled the shoot date (sorry for being such a futz, Jason Argyropoulos). Then I went down a rabbit’s hole designing a self-service SAAS model for the webinars to feed into. Incomplete. Let me tell you, being me for the past few weeks was exhausting. Start. Stop. Turn around. Confusion. Sigh. Rut.

I’ve been in this pattern enough times in my life to know what I needed to do. “OK, Lex, if I knew that I was supported perfectly, what is it that I truly would want?” My answer was: “I’d want three in-bound inquiries per week from people I’m excited to help.”

Now I don’t know if I can capture the difference adequately but the feeling I get between the low-order goal of “I want a dozen pre-recorded webinars” and the higher-order goal of “I want three in-bound inquires per week from people I’m excited to help” feels like the difference between being held captive in a Turkish prison or streaking naked through a field of mountain flowers in Switzerland with Helga.

Notice that I don’t yet know how I can create the goal. Just notice that I feel much lighter, more confident, and capable when I tap into what I truly want, versus being stuck in what I think I have to do. Great work comes when your natural genius, creativity, and desire come together – and you are much more capable to spot and act on the right opportunities when you’re feeling open and positive.

2) Am I expecting to get it?

Expectation is incredibly powerful. When you desire something you don’t expect, that’s called “wishful thinking.” However, the reason you’re not expecting to get what you desire may surprise you. It’s because you’re not playing to your strengths!

In Organizational Physics, we call your strengths “Your Genius ZoneTM” — which is a fusion of your strengths or natural talents with your life purpose that provides a sense of meaning and direction. When you’re operating within Your Genius Zone, you are highly confident, capable, and purposeful – and you produce outstanding work. When you’re operating in this zone most of the time, how can you not expect to achieve what you want?

Not surprisingly, when you get outside this zone and stop playing to your strengths, you feel less confident (even incompetent), you lose your sense of inner purpose and direction, and the work isn’t that great. Of course you don’t expect to be successful!

What I realized about my own rut was that creating webinars is outside my Genius Zone. I’m competent at it but definitely not a genius. More importantly, I don’t enjoy doing marketing. On top of that, my internal story at the time was: “I’m going to put all this effort into making these webinars and no one will watch them anyway so why even bother?”

So I was both operating outside my own Genius Zone and desiring to achieve something without expecting a positive outcome. I can contrast that with my new higher-order goal – to get three inbound calls each week from people I’m excited to work with – which I have total confidence in achieving. Why? Because I can operate within my Genius Zone to make that happen and so I have a high level of expectation that I’ll be successful. It’s a done deal.

3) Am I open to receiving it in new and unexpected ways?

When you’re stuck in a rut, your ego is your worst enemy. This is because your ego wants things delivered in a certain way, at a certain time. If you let it, your ego will say “no” to a multitude of opportunities and resources that could catapult you out of your rut just because they don’t look like the ego thinks they should.

The secret here is to learn to say “yes” to what shows up, even if it’s not showing up how the ego tells you it should. Put another way, there are infinite ways for your desire to be made real. When you allow yourself to be open to those possibilities, rather than the tight and narrow confines of the ego, you increase your probability of success.

In my own example, when I was able to drop the need for new clients to show up via webinar, I started to get excited again about my work. I started to get back into my Genius Zone and trust that the right next steps would emerge because I’m playing to my strengths and saying “yes” to those people and opportunities that present themselves. I’m writing this blog post as a reminder to myself (and to you) that when you’re ready to make a change, and you’re open to how it shows up, the right resources arrive in serendipitous ways.

How You Can Tell If You’ve Escaped a Rut

Time will tell if you’ve escaped a rut permanently, but the key thing to pay attention to immediately is whether, as a result of going through these questions, you experience a change in your own mind-set.

Your mind-set precedes every action you take. Without a change in your perspective, you’ll keep getting stuck in that same rut. But with a change, you can take new actions, which in turn will create new results.

You can tell if you’ve enabled a change in your perspective by how you’re thinking and feeling after earnestly answering those questions. How do you feel? More peace, confidence, and power – or less? Are you able to see the big picture or are you stuck down in the details? Positive shifts create positive results. No shift creates no new results.

If you haven’t been able to shift your perspective after sincerely going through these questions, then I highly recommend you work with a coach, or even better, work with a coach to go through these questions together. We all need support and perspective on the path of life, especially when we’re trying to create a positive shift. So get support from someone you trust and be free of that old rut forever.

How to Catalyze the Entire Company

Over a decade ago, Jim Collins wrote a brilliant article Turning Goals into Results: The Power of Catalytic Mechanisms that is a must read for every CEO. It ties directly into one of the core tenets of Organizational Physics — take a systems approach to change

“Most executives have a big, hairy, audacious goal. One dreams of making his brand more popular than Coke; another aspires to create the most lucrative Web site in cyberspace; yet another longs to see her organization act with the guts necessary to depose its arch rival. So, too, most executives ardently hope that their outsized goals will become a reality. To that end, they write vision statements, deliver speeches, and launch change initiatives. They devise complicated incentive programs, formalize rules and checklists, and pen policies and procedures. In other words, with the best intentions, they create layer upon layer of stultifying bureaucracy. Is it any surprise that their wildly ambitious dreams are seldom realized?

But companies don’t have to act that way. Over the past six years, I have observed and studied a simple yet extremely powerful managerial tool that helps organizations turn goals into results. I have recently codified it; I call it the catalytic mechanism. Catalytic mechanisms are the crucial link between objectives and performance; they are a galvanizing, nonbureaucratic means to turn one into the other. Put another way, catalytic mechanisms are to vision what the central elements of the U.S. Constitution are to the Declaration of Independence—devices that translate lofty aspirations into concrete reality. They make big, hairy, audacious goals reachable.”

Read the full article…