The Quality Imperative

This video says it better than I can.

Unless we set our sights on and demand top-tier performance pinnacleand results from all team members and suppliers…

Unless we continuously study and improve processes…

Unless we hold each other accountable for our actions and outputs, then

We may not only not achieve our objective but may sow the seeds for disaster on some scale.

Let’s not cut corners or ignore team mates who bring uncomfortable issues to our attention.

Let’s not look for someone to blame when things go sideways.

Let’s not wait for our customers to complain before acting, and

Let’s not put Band-aids on problems but drill down to and correct root causes.

If we’re all relentless in our quest for only the best from ourselves and from each other then we’ll live in a better, safer, smarter world.

Grudge Pickles

The past few days, I’ve been waging an internal battle in which positivity and grace had held the high ground but were taking tremendous fire from resentment, apparently far more aggressively armed.

In a moment of ceasefire, I’m sending reinforcements to grace. Because grudge pickles are deadly.

Grudge Pickles?

Growing up in a Polish-Canadian family, there were always pickles in the house.  They never came from the store.  We grew the bigger cucumbers in our garden, and the tiny ones for baby dills came from a local farm.  Late every summer, Mom spent hours sorting and cleaning the cucumbers, then packing them into Mason jars with fresh dill (also from our garden) and enough garlic to mow down a squad of vampires.

IMG_0849She’d fill each jar with hot vinegar brine, then carefully seal each one, more than a hundred jars in all.  Then they’d go downstairs to the basement pantry where, in cool silent darkness, a transformation I still consider magic would turn them from raw vegetables to something else entirely, perfect baby dills that would last us through fall, winter and spring and all the way to the next summer — when the cycle would happen all over again.  The circle of life, pickle style.

Mom stopped making pickles when she and Dad divorced, my brother and I graduated high school, and we all pretty much went our separate ways, but I still remember the smell of hot brine in late August and the amazing taste of Mom’s pickles.

It’s important to note that in that same basement, while a hundred jars of cucumbers were metamorphosing from sweet to sour, something else was happening a few feet away.  Three or four bushels of fresh-picked Cortland apples, preserved by the cool air and lack of light, were doing nothing at all except staying sweet, crunchy, and delicious for months and months and months.  Buying apples out of season from a store was unthinkable in my family when there were always fresh-picked ones close to hand.  By some alchemy, apples lived forever in our basement.IMG_0850

My point?   Both the cucumbers and apples were preserved in that same basement, but preservation by pickling (heat, acid, chemical changes) is vastly different from preservation in a cool, dry, and calm environment.

I say this because this past week, for a few days I chose to pickle my grudges (examine them closely, clean them off, flavor them in spices and brine, and put them in a jar to ferment).  I also shared too many of my grudge pickles with friends and colleagues.  The more I did this, the more it showed on my face.  Sour.  In my outlook.  Acetic.

This bothers me.  It’s too early in a new year to already be sour.

The good news?  With 355 days left there’s plenty of time to make better choices.

  1. Don’t store grudges in a recess in your mind so they can ferment, then show in your face and flavor your words and actions.
  2. If someone gets in your way and you have no way to change that, let them do whatever it is they are doing.  You can only affect your own outcome and your own attitude.

Don’t eat grudge pickles.


From the Bottomless Heart

The depth of human compassion cannot be fathomed by any instrument or measured by any calculation of science.

I am deeply moved and inspired by my colleague Tim McCormick and his husband Charlie Yzaguirre.

It was Tim’s vision and leadership that transformed a City Hall holiday open house table into a beacon of hope for more than 200 dogs and cats who had been destined to spend their holidays in shelters instead of in homes.  His optimism and tireless labor in pursuit of the prize were contagious.

Bianca - West LA
Bianca – West LA Shelter
Albert - West LA
Albert – West LA Shelter
Dallas - West LA
Dallas – West LA Shelter
Bob - Santa Monica Shelter
Bob – Santa Monica Shelter
Domino - West LA
Domino – West LA Shelter
Gasparin - Santa Monica Shelter
Gasparin – Santa Monica Shelter

It was Tim’s intent that the decorations we made ourselves, hung on the tree, and encouraged event guests to take; and the photos of shelter dogs and cats we framed and displayed would touch hearts and prolong or save innocent lives.  We believed this could happen.  We believed that if even one life were saved by our efforts, hours spent elbow-deep in glue and glitter would have been well worth it.

They were.

We have our first confirmed adoption as a result of our efforts. The pictures you framed haunted me day and night. Finally yesterday we researched 15 dogs in the system, selected two, Benny and Bolt, to go meet and left for the south LA shelter.

Benny was beautiful healthy and friendly. She met our Lucius through the fence and they clicked. Her file was filled with rapturous praise for her demeanor. I asked Charlie if he wanted to just get her and he said no, let’s look at Bolt too.

On the way to Bolt’s cage I passed a dog slumped against his cage door. He was labeled Mufasa. He was not a particularly handsome dog and his face was scarred from fighting. I kneeled to greet him and he barely looked up, but pressed against the bars harder so I could touch him.

We left Mufasa and went on and looked at Bolt. Bolt was a chewer but gorgeous and friendly. He also clicked okay with Lucius.

Charlie asked what I wanted and I said I wanted to meet Mufasa. We went to take him from his cage with the attendant and he was so frightened he couldn’t walk. He looked right and left at the cages of barking dogs and laid down trembling. He was carried to the meet and greet area where he expressed little interest in us.  Charlie wasn’t impressed. Mufasa ignored him. There was no information in his file and they had not done an assessment. He had been found on the streets.

We put him back and talked. I asked if Mufasa could meet Lucius through the fence and he did. There was some hair standing up and no great affection.

Still, I couldn’t let go of him. I asked if he could be temperament tested and they said they didn’t have staff for that.

Charlie walked the whole facility until he found someone who would do it. We waited a half hour. Finally they tested him with Benny. He passed. He didn’t show aggression even when pushed.

I tried to imagine leaving him there in his quaking, shaking, and very unfriendly condition. I didn’t think any of the families streaming in and out were going to warm to him. The facility was packed with dogs.  I saw him staying a few weeks cowering in fear and then being put down as un-adoptable. I started to cry for him and everyone like him. Charlie saw the suffering in me and said: “let’s get him out of here.”

We did the paperwork. He will be spayed on Tuesday and comes home with us that night.


Merry Christmas from Mufasa.

At all times, but particularly during this season, we’re reminded to follow our hearts to whom they lead us.

Giving, especially giving a voice to the silent, the oppressed, and the innocent, is the most extraordinary human act possible.

The Next Level

One year ago I thought I should start Becoming Extraordinary.  Like any journey, this blog has had its moments, its inspirations, and its banalities.  It’s been an endless hall of mirrors, each one reflecting a lesson from a failure or a success.

hall of mirrors

Key to becoming extraordinary is listening to others’ cautionary tales or using another’s parables to pave your path, because in one short human lifetime we’re not going to find the secrets of the universe on our own.  It is only when we share our own – and voraciously acquire others’ – experiences, mis-steps, and epiphanies can we have a chance at brilliance.

Brilliance is not an entitlement, nor can it be purchased.  It is available to all of us who’ve committed to its pursuit.  We become more brilliant each time we share knowledge we’ve found on our path.  We take a step or a mile backward when we don’t share or don’t listen.

What needs to happen next, at least for me but also, more importantly, for my readers, is a move to the next level.  I’m convinced that the next level that leads to a life lived extraordinarily far transcends my own experience, which has been my focus until now.  On a personal level, looking inward and sharing just my own flashes of insight is barely adequate anymore.

So —

There will be more inspiration drawn from others’ far more remarkable stories.

And —

There will be parables. Anecdotes. Tales, tall and short. Yarns. Legends.  This, not for its own sake but because life lessons are better shown than told.



Asking Wise

Not long after they learn to talk, young children prove they’re smarter than the rest of us.  The littlest kids we know have root cause identification and analysis figured out.

Santa Clarita, CA
Nothing but Blue Skies, Santa Clarita, CA

“Mommy, why is the sky blue?” “Because…” “But why?” “Because…” “Why?” “Because…” “Why?” “Because…”  “But why?”

There’s no limit to their tenacity and patience. They will torture you with “why” until they get an answer that makes sense. Or until you say, “Because I said so.”  Or the bribe, “How about some ice cream?”

Unless the oracle runs out of patience or wisdom or research data, the end of a chain of whys – and the recommended number is usually five or more – is the reward or root cause of the issue.

In life, it’s often tempting to stop at the first answer we hear or know.  That may work a little bit or it may be a temporary fix.

You can’t open a puzzle box with just one or two moves — you have to keep asking what’s next until it pops open to reveal the prize within.

Let us let our littlest sages teach us to keep asking or answering until we reach the prize.

Consequences or Truth

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

Few of us are Jedi knights, but the Jedi mind trick could come in pretty handy at times.  As most of us know,  C3PO and R2D2 actually were the droids the stormtroopers were looking for, but when told otherwise, they moved on.

How?  Because, delivered with a pure conscience, that truth was believable.

To be clear, this is not about deception. It’s about conviction expressed with intention for a result that serves both if not every conceivable side.

The truth has to be acceptable.  Counterintuitively, facts aren’t always believeable in their naked form. They need clothes or makeup before people can warm up to hem.

Consider your face as it is when you wake up in the morning in all its creased, smudged, or unshaven glory. If you leave your house with it just as it is, that’s not likely to work for you in the business world.  You are going to have to make it fit for human observation. What that means is up to you, whether it’s 40 minutes of makeup or five to 10 minutes with a toothbrush and razor. This isn’t about deception but acceptance.

If your spouse or best friend asks you, “Tell me the truth, do I look fat in these jeans,”  you’d better tell the truth but depending how that truth sounds, you may not like the cold front that blows in suddenly and hangs around for a few days.IMG_0161

Or a colleague’s work product barely meets expectations, but she presents it with a big smile, expecting high praise for her effort.  You can tell her the naked truth, “That’s not good,” which will return resentment and even less effort on the next go-round.

You can lie, “Good job!”  Whatever its color, white, or bald-faced, know that the result of rewarding mediocrity with a lie is more mediocrity.

Or you can frame the truth so that it’s accepted and believed.  “I like how you did X, Y, and Z; but have you considered doing A or B?  I think that really worked in [legendary outcome].”

The truth isn’t just a kernel or nugget but also the flesh and skin that gives it substance, context, and the power to effect change.Rodaja de sandia color (2)  The whole truth.

Maybe that’s all the Force really is.


Chocolate croissant? Or almond croissant?

This morning, in the afterglow of a chocolate almond croissant it occurred to me that once upon a time I made better choices when it came to issues affecting my health.  I followed that train of thought to the end of its track, more precisely this:

Sometimes the way to a better choice is to redefine the question.

Not, “This dysfunction or that one?” Instead, “What would push me out of this gnarly decision tree to a place where the choices are better?”

gnarly tree

In other words, what impetus would it take to drive me to the outcome I really want?

Twenty years ago, I found myself in a place in which realizing my true potential was just not an option. Individuality was discouraged.   blog-obedience

Unfortunately, I was so deeply invested that leaving seemed impossible.  One day I realized that staying would be fatal and that I had to leave. Immediately.

That decision was the impetus that carried me to opportunities and rewards I could never have imagined, and away from a future of progressively worse choices.

Impetus is the invisible hand that pushes you forward into the scary unknown and out the other side.

We’re all still writing the stories we live, even as we  progress, step by step, toward our own sunsets. IMG_0598

One way to live a more compelling story is to not just make the choices we see.  Instead, step back and find the impetus to extraordinary.

Stairway to Success

Any organization’s prime objectives are carried to success on a staircase of achievers.IMG_0528

These are the one, the two, or the few on every team without whom nothing would get done. They’ll be out breaking ground in a downpour while the rest of the group members are just starting to talk about about getting out the raincoats and umbrellas.

These are people who will say yes when it’s right, no when it’s wrong, and let’s try this instead when there might be a better way to get it done.

Sometimes they are visible because they are the elected or hired leaders or managers leading the charge.  We see them up ahead.  We may not see the objective because we can’t see that far, but we know they do see it and they won’t stop until they’ve led us to it.

More often, they are invisible because we’re standing on their backs, and we’re so busy looking forward that we’re not looking down.

Often they are the only ones in motion, the escalator most others ride to the top.IMG_0262

You won’t find them by peering into generational pigeonholes because they are not defined by their generations. They are defined by the strength and wisdom of their souls, not the ages of  their bodies.

It’s not likely you would recognize them by reading their social media profiles.  You have to find them in the real world. It isn’t their words that define them but their actions.

Often, other team members don’t recognize them.  The other people are too busy climbing the staircase, sitting down on one of the stairs to rest, or sliding back down the bannister away from the goal.

From time to time, look ahead, behind, or below you at the staircase you’re climbing, and note the achievers.

Even if you don’t see them, believe they are there, carrying the team to success.

The Fork in the Road

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

yogifork01The late great Yogi Berra is famous not only for being a baseball legend but also for saying some profoundly useful things. I particularly like this one.

The choices we make daily define our level of success in the short, and ultimately also the long, runs.

I realized a couple of weeks ago while running that had I made better choices it would have been easier for me to complete a half marathon more easily and sooner than I did.  I told myself unhelpfully I’d made bad choices.  If I had trained more, I’d have gotten a better time on the run.  If I’d eaten fewer bacon cheese scones, I’d have felt better climbing those hills as I’d be carrying less weight.

It’s easy to define choices as good or bad, but in reality it’s not that simple.

What we’re really doing when it comes to making choices that don’t give us the result we want is dealing with the fork we’ve come to in the road in one of two ways.

One — we’re not taking it.  In other words, we’ve made the choice to not make a choice, to turn our back on the problem.  We’re focusing on something else, and then never coming back to to the actual problem or choice.

In this case, the choice wasn’t, as I perceived it, to train daily for that run or to not train at all.  Defining it that way, the options were either unrealistic or too clearly “bad” so I did neither.  I left the fork stuck in the road and turned my back on it.  I trained a little bit – just enough to feel like I wasn’t making the bad choice but not enough to positively affect the outcome.

This is where you walk up to diverging paths and instead of taking the right or the left, you turn 180 degrees and go back the way you came.

It’s impossible to arrive somewhere when you are walking away from it.  Yogi would agree.

The other fork-in-the-road dysfunction is to take the fork, and then drop it.  In other words, we’ve made a choice but then we haven’t followed through to a result, any result.

Any path, any decision, leads somewhere.  If you take one path or you take the other, you will eventually reach some destination, probably one that is ahead of you.  But if you stop after a few feet and go no further, you will not get anywhere.

It’s impossible to arrive when you haven’t really left.

So make a choice, then act on it. Don’t overthink it. Don’t stop.  Don’t waffle.  Don’t give up, and and don’t turn back.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.





None of us lead lives that carry us exclusively through meadows of fragrant wildflowers or from mountaintop to mountaintop.  maxresdefaultBehind or beneath a fragrant meadow you’ll often find some sort of stinking swamp to navigate with a clothespin on your nose.  Mountaintops wouldn’t exist without unmarked trenches, black valleys or black ice, or bottomless crevasses.swamp_LinoDriegheArt

By now many of us have figured out that the swamps and trenches have much greater value in our growth than sunny fields of cornflowers and butterflies or the lofty highs that mark victories.  There, we’ve learned to hold our breath, hold our tongues, or hold judgment, along with many other lessons on life and love.

Of even greater value than life lessons are a few of the people we’ve met in life’s battlefields and trials – the uplifters.  We got to where we are today because they risked life or reputation to reach out to pull us from a bog or because they lay across the abyss and let us walk across on their backs.  Once there, they’ve walked with us side by side.  They’re not afraid to tell us the bald truth or to shine lights on our blind spots.  They constructively criticize our art or our work product.  They’ll pour a bucket of icewater on us if we need waking up.

Together we’ve navigated childhood, high school, our parents’ divorce, and early adulthood, forging a bond stronger than any alloy.   Together, we survived harsh betrayal of trust and escape from an untenable situation.  We’ve been richer or poorer, sick or healthy, better or worse together.  We’ve worked through high highs and even lower lows – together.

Lift is what keeps the plane from falling out of the sky.  Uplifters keep us firmly grounded.

We succeed in life to the degree that we hold onto and nurture our uplifters by being the same for them as they are for us.

Recognize your uplifters.  Keep them safe.   Thank them from time to time.

We’re only as extraordinary as the company we keep.