Five Bucks, Two Hours, and Three Minutes

Five Bucks Two Hours Three Minutes

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Legendary Stanford professor Tina Seelig posed the following assignment to teams of students in one of her classes: How profitably can a team run a (very) short-term business with $5 in seed money?

The team could spend as much time as they wanted in the planning stage, but could actually “operate” the business for a total of just two hours. They had from Wednesday afternoon until Sunday evening to complete the project because by Sunday night Seelig expected one slide from each team detailing what they had come up with.

At Monday’s class, each team had three minutes to present their project to the class.

After you read the question in bold, I want you to stop and close your eyes to consider your response: What would YOU do to make money with five bucks, two hours, and three minutes? (Go ahead. Close your eyes and think creatively. I’ll be right here when you get back.)

If we’re being cognitively lazy, we might say to use the $5 to buy lottery tickets and hope for the best. (The older we are it seems the easier it is to jump on the first answer that comes to us.) Seelig says another common response when she poses the question to adult audiences is, “Set up a lemonade stand.” But how much lemonade could you sell in two hours? There’s not much profit there.

The creative responses from her students will blow you away.

One group, recognizing the frustratingly long wait at college town restaurants on Saturday nights, booked early reservations for two at a number of the restaurants. As their expected arrival time got close, they’d approach couples at the end of the line and sell their reservation for $20 each. If the restaurant had handed out pagers to the folks in line, the team now had another spot to sell to people who were farther back in line. Within the two hour period, this team generated a few hundred dollars.

Knowing how many bicycles are used on campus, another team bought a tire pressure and a pump for air. Setting up in front of the student union, they offered to check bicycle tire pressure for free, and if it was low, charged $1 for adding air. Then when they saw how grateful students were to have this service so handy, they asked for donations instead. They too made a few hundred dollars in the two hours.

The highest profit generated by one team was $650. Before this team did anything, they evaluated what resources were available to them: five bucks, two hours, and three minutes. They determined that the $5 and the two hours would restrict them; both are very limiting. The students recognized that the most precious asset in their hands was the three-minute timeslot.

They “sold” the three-minute slot to a company that wanted to recruit the students and created an infomercial for that company. That is what they played during their three-minute presentation time.

Seelig says she used this exercise to demonstrate what you can do with an entrepreneurial mindset. But she wanted to make sure her students learned that financial reward isn’t necessarily the primary value over everything else. So the next time she ran the exercise, instead of $5, the students received ten paperclips. (She had been inspired by the story of Kyle MacDonald, link below.)

If you want to read how her students assigned amazing value to paperclips, you’ll just have to buy Seelig’s 2009 book What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20.


Seelig’s website

Kyle MacDonald story



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Change is good for us. But that doesn’t mean we love it or even like it. Some of us can barely tolerate it.

I once worked for a company that drove me crazy by the corporate office’s  on-going, seemingly never-ending changes. We’d barely get used to a new corporate policy, platform, slogan, strategy, and then, oh yes, here comes another “Attention All Personnel” email.

Too much and too frequent change can cause our people to feel as though they’re adrift on a rough ocean, getting bounced left and right, up and down, turned around, upside down. When our employees have been bombarded with change, that may be when managers start to see passive/aggressive behaviors; associates nodding yes they understand but finding ways to slightly sabotage implementation of the new stuff.

Or they may form what I call “Ain’t It Awful?” clubs. That would be small groups gathering informally to complain and moan about the state of affairs. This isn’t healthy. While we don’t do ourselves any favors by keeping feelings bottled up inside, according to the September 21, 2016, Harvard Business Review, “research shows that actively and repeatedly broadcasting negative emotions hinders our natural adaptation processes.”

It’s also not wise to roll over and play dead, accepting a resigned attitude toward change. I ended up despising the phrase, “It is what it is.” While it may be true that we have little control over change, offering up that trite phrase is of no comfort and reinforces the idea that we ourselves are powerless in the situation.

An article from November 2015 contained an interview with Major Andrew Steadman who commanded an Army Infantry company in Baghdad. When he first took over command, people were using the “it is” phrase to respond to nearly everything.  He had this to say about that phrase: “Here’s the problem with It is what it is. It abdicates responsibility, shuts down creative problem solving, and concedes defeat.”

Yes, indeed, that about sums up my feelings as well.

So what’s a better way of working with change? Consider why the “new thing on the block” is causing stress and anxiety. Take a step back and focus on the issue, not your feelings about it. Not always easy, right? Especially when we’re caught up in the moment. Believe me, my personal history would show my initial response to some changes as being, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

I have been guilty of stressing myself by how I’ve reacted to the change rather than the change itself.

We’ll be better off if we examine how we can best work with this change and then set about to do just that.


In case you want to read further on articles I mentioned:

Harvard Business Review  Getting better at dealing with change

Inc.Com    Article on the phrase “It is what it is.”




This is Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Us Into


Photo courtesy of Alice Achterhof on

I just finished a book titled Finish. It’s coded “new” at my local library which means I can’t renew it. I had been on a wait list for seven weeks just to get the book. So considering all that, I would have felt pretty lame if I hadn’t read it all before it was due back at the library.

The book’s subtitle is “Give Yourself the Gift of Done.” Author Jon Acuff (professional public speaker, blogger, and best-selling author) offers up seven unusual ideas to help us move along our projects, ideas, dreams, diets, and getting-into-shape-for-the-high-school-reunion plans to completion.

Acuff’s writing style is glib and funny and sometimes disguises some really profound thoughts. I’d find myself stopping abruptly and asking, “Wait a minute—what did he say?”

The introduction talks about the inability to finish and ineffective ways to try to prod ourselves along. Acuff says, “It turns out that trying harder isn’t the answer. Admit it, you felt like this book was going to be similar to a Red Bull commercial. I’d give you a few tips, get you motivated, show you how to get the eye of the tiger, and help you do more, more, more! How’s that working out for you? Have any productivity tips, time management tricks, or life hacks helped even a little bit? They haven’t and they won’t.”

Most of his ideas are counterintuitive to what we might consider as steps to being a finisher.

The villain throughout his book is the concept of perfection. If you’ve been a regular reader of mine for very long, you already know that I feel perfection is evil and destructive and should be avoided.

Chapter 5 spoke to me the loudest: Leave Your Hiding Places and Ignore Noble Obstacles. It turns out that the closer we get to finishing something, it’s as though the distractions from hell have been released and are dancing in front of our eyes.

A “hiding place” is anything we focus on instead of our goal. They are unproductive traps.

One of my hiding places is “cleaning up paperwork.”

When I should be focusing on a marketing plan, I keep thinking about my idea folder. Maybe there are marketing ideas there! Of course, once I pull it out, I realize that each idea needs to be fully considered and then tossed if it’s no longer useful. One of the ideas relates to my class handouts.

Yes, I really should take the time to evaluate all of my handouts to make sure they’re still on target. And, hey..what’s that folder? Oh, it’s the stretching exercises I’ve accumulated over five years (but never done). I should go through that and purge the duplicates so that when I’m ready to start stretching, the folder will be perfect.

Ugh. You get the point. I’m not an expert on marketing and so I avoid working on it.

All those years spent in corporate America I was focused. Now that I’m on my own and don’t know everything, I have allowed distractions to take over so I don’t have to think too hard about that.

Thanks, Jon Acuff, for forcing me to face this.

I highly recommend this easy-read-of-a-book, especially if you are a chronic starter of “things” but a rare finisher.

You’ll learn how to spit into Perfection’s eye and laugh about it. Don’t worry. Perfection deserves it.






Mirror, Mirror…Just Don’t Let Me Catch You At It


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Are you aware of the communication/empathy/rapport building technique called mirroring?

Many of us do this naturally when we’re with people we’re close to. For instance, if I’ve just had lunch in a restaurant with a good friend, I might suddenly realize that we’re both sitting forward in our chairs, and we both have one hand over our other hand resting on the table.

Sales people are taught this skill, sometimes under other names such as matching. According to the website, mirroring is “when one person adopts the physical and verbal behaviors of another as a way to build rapport and agreement during the selling process. Although that may sound a little creepy, it’s subtle when done well and research supports its effectiveness.”

So if a prospect leans back in a chair and crosses one leg over the other, a person mirroring may, a few seconds later, adapt the same pose. We can match another’s rate of speech, use similar language or vocabulary, and move into the same positive body language. The key to success in using this to build rapport with another person is subtlety.

And yes, this can be used for nefarious purposes—to trick someone into liking you, for example. I trust my tribe of readers, though, so I know you will use this new power for good and not for evil.

When someone is mirroring me and doing it badly and obviously, sometimes just for laughs I’ll strike some odd pose such as laying my pointer finger along the outside of my nose and leaving it there for a minute. Just picture what someone copying that pose would look like. I don’t consider this mean; I’m just teaching them a lesson. Be subtle!

I recall when one regional boss in my corporate America career learned that one way to show people you’re really listening to them is to repeat back the last four to five words they’ve said. Again, if you really ARE listening to people and choose to use this technique, use it judiciously, not like the regional boss did.

There were about a dozen of us at the conference table, taking turns presenting options or ideas to solve some financial problem. After each person spoke a sentence, boss man repeated back the last half dozen words. The sequence was repeated over and over again.

I finally had to fake a nosebleed in order to leave the room because I knew I was going to burst out laughing if I listened to him perform this act of pompous stupidity one more time.

Mirroring done well works because we like people who are like ourselves. I’m willing to bet you already know that. Tony Robbins’ version is, “People like people who are like themselves OR are how they would like to be.”

Mirroring can certainly build rapport. And it can be used for good purposes in many situations. Consider when someone calls a depression hotline for help. The caller is reaching out because of feeling sad and hopeless and may be brimming over with despair. The trained counselor doesn’t respond to the caller’s opening remarks with, “Oh come on….it can’t be that bad.”

No, the counselor moves down to mirror the level of the caller, asking questions that establish the meaning, “I understand. I feel your depth of pain. You’re not alone.” And only when the rapport has been established gently, hopefully the counselor can move up the emotional state of the caller a little bit at a time.

We can all use a dose of that kind of understanding every day.






Do Not Repeat After Me, Repeat After Me, Repeat After Me


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Picture this: I’m looking online for a short talk by Simon Sinek that I “accidentally” saw yesterday and didn’t bookmark. Sinek is an author, motivational business coach, and professional speaker. He’s an inspiration to many people, including me. In my search for THAT video, I came across another Sinek interview that highlighted a point I had just taught the day before.

Surprisingly, I discovered that in this 15 minute one-on-one talk, Sinek repeats the word “right” over and over. I’ve seen other Simon Sinek talks and hadn’t picked up on that bad habit. It’s possible the reason for right popping out is due to this being more of an informal talk. Also, his audience of one isn’t giving any verbal attends. (Those are short feedback phrases such as: Oh. Yes. I see. Sure. Uh-huh. I understand. OK.) So when Simon adds, “Right?” he’s confirming that the audience appears to have received the message, and it’s time to move on to another thought.

How do I know this? Because I used to do the same thing with the word OK. It’s almost as if I was reassuring myself that all was well and I could go on to the next point.

What is the point of my encouraging you to watch this short video? (The link is at the end of this post.) Initially, it was to demonstrate that even a professional speaker can get into the habit of repeating a word while presenting.

But the more deeply I listened to the video, the repeated word no longer bothered me. I got so involved in Sinek’s talk that I tuned out the annoyance.

His message was so big it precluded any focus on this minor point.

I began thinking….hey, this is exactly how the process of becoming an amazing speaker works. The transformation into an engaging public speaker is not about learning and practicing ONE great tip from Norma. It’s about learning and practicing one idea and then another and then another.

It’s trying out the ideas you’ve learned and seeing how you can adjust them to fit your own voice and personality. Then each student or client puts together for himself or herself a custom-made toolbox of speaking practices.

Think of it like this: When you want to purchase a new shirt or blouse you may take half a dozen of the items into the fitting room with you. As you try on each one, you notice what works and what doesn’t. This one is a great color, but it’s a little tight across the shoulders. (So you can use this idea, just tweaking it to suit you.) This one looked super on the hanger but not so good on you. (While this concept sounded interesting, you decide it’s not for you.) But this one….Wow! The color matches your eyes and fits perfectly. (This idea becomes cornerstone content of your presentations. It’s your go-to tool whenever you’re speaking.)

So it’s not taking one class, or reading one book, or watching one video. The quick fix…the one and done method doesn’t work for many important aspects of our lives.

Whether it’s speaking or parenting or playing sports or doing our job…if we are to be successful in that role, it means lifelong learning and reading and watching and doing.

PS – Later in the Sinek video when the host actually does speak up, he also starts to add the questioning “right?” to his speech. Is this is his own bad habit or did he simply latch onto the word to mirror Simon? Hmmm…sounds like another blog post to me.

Link to Simon Sinek video


Find Your Own Voice


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Why do we want what other people have?

My friend Sue has the greatest hair. It’s short and curly and a tad unruly, but it’s a perfect fit for her. When I asked how much time she spends on “the look,” she said, “Oh I slept on this and did nothing to my hair this morning.”

THAT is the look every woman I know longs for…to wake up and not have to do ANYTHING to your hair and have it look gorgeous.

So I tried Sue’s directions (which involved curl cream…something I’d never even heard of) and let’s just say, uhh…it looked like a mistake on me.

Sue’s hairdo is not for Norma.

That incident reminded me that once an audience member beseechingly asked me, “Please teach me to sound just like you.”  I replied, “I’m sorry, this is my voice and you can’t have it. But I can help you find your own voice.”

If you don’t like the sound of your voice, you’re not alone. Many people have told me they believe their voice detracts from the quality of their verbal interactions and presentations. Research bears that out; up to 38% of the verbal message that our listeners receive from us is based on various aspects of voice.

The good news is that you can take initial steps to improve some voice issues without spending a gazillion dollars on a voice coach.

The first exercise is to listen to yourself. That means you’ll need to record 30-40 minutes of YOU talking in everyday situations such as your side of a phone conversation, leading or actively participating in a meeting, teaching someone how to do something. Be creative and try to forget that you’re recording yourself.

No one listens to this taping but you. Set aside some private time to analyze your recording to determine what you want to change. Be brave! This is the point some people give up.

Trust yourself. You intuitively have the smarts to know what needs to be changed.

Don’t listen with a critical ear. Instead listen with an open and understanding ear, as though you’re listening to a good friend and you want to help him or her improve.

Do you hear a voice that’s talking so fast you don’t understand what’s being said? Or are the words coming so slowly that you feel yourself nodding off?

Is the voice high pitched to the point that it causes the speaker to sound unsure or even childlike? Or are the words in a dull monotone where every word carries the same weight? A monotone voice can cause disengagement because listeners aren’t quite sure what the main points are or what is being emphasized.

Maybe there’s a word or phrase that’s used repetitively without the speaker’s awareness of doing so. Some of the most overused words I hear are these:

Basically  /  Kinda  /  Literally  /  Sorta  /  So  /  And so  /  Just  /  Thing

Once aware of any issues that detract from the verbal message, we can begin working to repair them.

Your own true voice is inside you. Let it out because I want to hear it!


Get Your Message Across While Maintaining the Interest of the Audience


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You’re listening to a speaker. It could be a teacher in a class you’re taking. Maybe it’s a co-worker training your team in a new process. It might be a pastor delivering a sermon. Perhaps you paid to attend a seminar where the speaker is an expert in a field where you want to learn more.

This speaker certainly has the credentials (education, skill set, experience, and achievements) to give this particular talk. But there’s a four component problem:

1) The presentation is so disjointed and rambling that no one in the audience can keep track of the main points. It seems like the speaker is lost and going off in one new direction after the other.

2) The speaker uses a lot of business jargon that you don’t know the meaning of. There are so many facts and statistics thrown in that you can’t keep track of their significance. Sometime the speaker merely hints at some points without really identifying them. Just when you think you understand a point, well…no, that’s not it. This is highly frustrating for an audience.

3) The body language and voice of the speaker are that of a person who has no confidence in herself or in what she is saying. The speaker is either reading from a manuscript or scanning the room without really looking at anyone. You find that you’re asking yourself if the person actually believes her own message. The speaker’s credibility fades as the presentation goes on.

4) When the speaker wraps it up with an “in conclusion,” you realize you haven’t taken any notes. You find that you can’t remember one single piece of advice or action step. There was no meaning to the talk; it was simply a mish-mash of words. An audience usually leaves such a presentation muttering, “What a waste of time.”

Any talk that you give—whether it’s to a class of middle school students, a team of five for fifteen minutes, a congregation of 150, or an hour’s presentation to a large audience—must be FUBR (rhymes with Uber) for the audience.

Follow – An audience needs to be able to follow the presentation. Don’t leave them guessing when you’re ending one main point and beginning another.

Understand – They need to be able to understand the meaning of your words to get your message.

Believe – A speaker’s voice and body language need to enhance the spoken words to strengthen the message. Really look at individual members of your audience while you speak.

Remember – If an audience can’t remember the speaker’s presentation, what’s the point of having sat through it?

An audience (no matter the size) comes to us with hopeful expectations. They may believe that the speaker can help them solve a problem. An audience may want to be inspired to make a change. Some people want to learn a skill or enhance their existing knowledge of one. They’re looking for an experience that will help them.

An audience wants to feel included, respected, and engaged.

If you use the FUBR model, your audience will come away from your talk feeling just that.



Say, Do You Have An Hour Or Two…Or 10,000?

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The writer Malcolm Gladwell fascinates me. He causes me to really think about topics I may not even have considered prior to reading his ideas. His 2008 book Outliers, caused some controversy (imagine that!) when he said that, “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.”

A summary of his theory is that, to be successful in something, natural talent counts and good luck and positive circumstances play a big role too. But the key is consistent practice for a long period of time….10,000 hours as a matter of fact.

Facing some of his critics who misconstrued his writing to mean that you can be anything if you spend 10,000 hours practicing it, he was quoted in Business Insider on June 2, 2014, as saying, “The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest.”

We’re all busy and 10,000 is a big number. To put it in perspective, there are 8,760 hours in a year. So even if we went without sleep for a whole year and focused solely on this expert status 24/7, we wouldn’t have enough hours. The number might seem insurmountable to some people.

But consider where you’ve already put in hours toward your passion over the past month, year, decade, or lifetime. You’re likely well on your way to that magic number without realizing it. Want to become a master chef? How long have you been cooking already? If you have considered becoming a professional gardener in your retirement, tally up the years you’ve spent making your own yard a showpiece.

And what if you have a natural talent for something but have left it as an unrealized passion still inside you? Well, an hour a day for the next 27.5 years gets you just over 10,000 hours. And of course, that means two hours of practice a day will take you less than 14 years. Even if you have a day job, that is doable.

I doubt that many of us are looking to be recognized as a world-famous expert in anything. But it’s important to practice our craft and help others along our way to that magic number of greatness.










Out of the Mouths of Parents


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After thousands of complaints poured in regarding my post about Dale and Andrew Carnegie…nope, just kidding…no one complained.

The topic of that post came up because of a great story my friend Jan Sutton shared with me.

Jan has been a business owner as a Farmers Insurance agent for over twenty years. Early in her career she took advantage of a short, teaser-type meeting sponsored by the Dale Carnegie company. While their website states they improve individual and business performance, most people associate Dale Carnegie with the topic of public speaking.

Jan got fired up at the initial meeting and signed up for their two hour presentation. As she recently talked to me about speaking pointers she remembers from all those years ago, I recognized that many of the ground rules for speaking in public are still important today.

  • Arrive early, check out the room and get to know it, test the equipment, and introduce yourself to the people running the show.
  • Appearance matters.
  • Body language speaks louder than your words can.
  • Be nice.

After that presentation Jan stopped at her parents’ home. She excitedly told her father about all the fascinating new information she had buzzing through her head. Her dad stood up and left the room. Returning from the basement, he held out Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People. This is THE book that started the whole Carnegie movement.

When Jan asked, “Oh, you took the class too?” her dad answered, “Yes. I was taught by Dale Carnegie in New York.”

In the late 40s and early 50s her family had lived basically around the corner from where Carnegie started. To think that her dad had been personally trained by Dale Carnegie blew Jan away. Me too!

Then she started thinking about the advice her dad had given her over the years. He’d always been so supportive of her tackling new subjects, taking chances, and then branching out to own her own business.

In thinking back, she wishes she had paid attention sooner and listened more intently to her parents’ stories. She offers up this advice to younger people: Interview your parents! Find out all the interesting stuff they know! Do it now!

One trait evident in Jan is her fervor to keep learning and improving. She looks for opportunities to gain knowledge, and she takes advantage of any class that’s offered. I’m sure at this point you won’t be surprised to learn she’s a participant in a leadership class.

She also recognizes the value of having a coach. As she expounds on that subject, she takes on an exuberant tone of voice.

“Do you think you don’t need a coach? Have you ever watched the Olympics? When the gold medal winners are shown, who is standing beside them? Yes, their family…and their coach. Regardless of what level you are at, even if you are at the top of your game, you need a coach to hold you accountable and to keep you motivated.”

Sage advice.

And my guess is that both her dad and Dale Carnegie would be very proud.

A Tale of Two Carnegies


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Did you know that Dale Carnegie (1888-1955), author of the bestselling How to Win Friends and Influence People, had an original last name of Carnagey?

It’s true; around 1913 he changed the spelling of his last name so that the general public would associate him with the family (and status) of Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919). Andrew Carnegie was an exceedingly wealthy steel tycoon and philanthropist.

Both men had been born into poor families and both made their own ways to financial success. And although they did share a passion for books and learning, they were not related.

In 1900 Andrew made a point of telling his family (and anyone who asked) why he was donating the bulk of his fortune (the $350 million would be worth nearly five billion in today’s dollars) by writing a small book called The Gospel of Wealth.

Andrew felt that too much money ruined a person. He encouraged all wealthy people to be socially responsible and use their money to help others.

Part of the money Andrew Carnegie left endowed over 200 libraries.

A man after my own heart.

It’s been thought that Andrew Carnegie and his wife held one of the first prenuptial agreements. Apparently he wanted to leave his wife and daughter enough money to be comfortable, but not so much that they might end up lazy.

In an interview with one of his great granddaughters (Linda Thorell Hills), she said her family has been appreciative and supportive of Andrew’s legacy; they try to live as he did.

Here’s a fantastic quote from a Forbes article from Ms. Thorell Hills:

“Making one’s own way in life is a healthy way to be. Our family has been very much raised with the philosophy that our own individual lives are what we make of them.”

While Andrew Carnegie literally gave away most of his wealth, I cannot find that Dale Carnegie did the same.  In fact, if you do a specific Google search (putting the phrase in quotation marks) for “Dale Carnegie Philanthropist,” you get ZERO hits.  About 0 results (0.69 seconds)

Can you tell me the last time you Googled something and got zero hits?

A biographical website for Dale Carnagey/Carnegie, says that the name spelling change was “a brilliant, if somewhat disingenuous, business tactic.”

Well, I guess he really did know how to influence people.