Industry Trends

Random Thoughts: Capturing the Big Picture


Industry

Someone once said everything new is just a recreation of something that has been done before. In this innovation-based world, that’s a bold statement, but it rings true for me. 

A couple of year ago, my wife Suzanne and I were fortunate to be invited to a business conference in Maui. Though I tried to sell the point that seven consecutive business dinners for an introvert like me is hard work, I quickly learned that when the word "Maui" is in any sentence, attempts at sympathy are not appreciated. 

The whole program was terrific, but one thing that stood out for me was the keynote speaker, Dewitt Jones. Dewitt made his fame as a photo journalist for National Geographic (which we learned the cool people just call "The Geographic") but found a path to early retirement as a keynote speaker. He had a terrific style, ably managing to blend his photographic skills with a motivational story line. For those Facebook fans out there, he has created a group called “Celebrate What's Right with the World” where he captures a photo a day of something that inspires him and allows others to do the same.

In describing how he took such magnificent photos, Dewitt talked about how important it was to put yourself in the place of most potential so you are prepared when the opportunity reveals itself. That may be the time of day to get the right light for your shot, or a location that has the best subject matter. But, Mr. Jones also stressed the importance of training your technique so you’re ready to take advantage of that opportunity. 

As a sales person, this might mean using your tools to make sure you are seeing the brokers with the best potential to sell the products you have to offer, then having your sales pitch honed so that, when the right buying signs come your way, you can pounce. For an underwriter, this might mean boning up on certain market segments that the reps in your region favor so we have a better chance of closing those key cases. A marketing professional may reach out to sales to better understand how brokers might think about a certain concept so that we are best positioning our messaging for success. 

You get the point: We could play these analogies out for all our roles. Train your technique ... put yourself in the place of most potential ... be prepared for the opportunity to reveal itself.

Dewitt also told a story about two masons in the 14th century. A priest saw them working away on a pile of stones and asked the first what he was doing. The mason respond he was "chipping stone." The priest nodded and moved over to the other mason, who seemed to have a more chipper attitude (see what I did there? Chipper!), asking him the same question. That mason responded he was, "building a cathedral." No wonder he was in a better frame of mind. While his colleague was slaving a way at a pile of stones, this mason had the big picture in mind, resulting in a purpose for his work. 

Think about that in your own life. When a friend or colleague asks you what you do, how do you respond? It may be, "I'm an actuary pricing group products" or "I manage a voluntary product portfolio" or "I assess medical risks." What if, like the mason who builds cathedrals, we said, "I help people protect what they love about their lives by managing life's emergencies"? Each of you do that in a different way...

I encourage you to re-look at life through Dewitt's eyes and find that moment in each day that you are excited about and can capture in picture or prose. And, find your cathedral. If you’re willing, please share it with me and I'll do the same in future notes.

 

Playing the Dad Game


Industry

When I was a newly-minted dad, my parenting goals seemed simple: work with my wife to raise great kids, and build closer, healthier relationships with them than I had with my own dad.

It turned out those goals were a lot harder than they sounded. 

I had no clue what I was doing, so I screwed up a lot, especially when the kids entered their tween and teen years. Spending time together suddenly got harder. I can’t count the number of times that “let’s sit down and talk” ended with everybody angry and someone near tears (often me).

Around that time, I made a fascinating discovery: My kids and I almost never fought when we played board games together. Instead, we breezily talked and joked with each other. The only tears happened when we couldn’t stop laughing together. Shocking, right?!

Board games created a safe communication space for us. My kids and I could talk, interact, laugh, and enjoy each other without pain or frustration. Best of all, those benefits lasted well beyond the end of the game. Our interactions wove into our relationships in the form of inside jokes, friendly jests and shared memories. We connected at a whole new level.

Something amazing was happening, and it all started with a struggling dad, a couple of frustrated kids, and some extraordinary board games known as “Eurogames.”

 

American Board Games

To understand “Eurogames,” we should first look at American board games. Mass-market American games typically focus on race-style mechanics where you win by being the first person to do something: land on a spot, gather all the cherries or drive your opponent into the ground like a tent stake.

Eliminating the opposing players takes such a central role that pretty much everything you see at the big stores has a reality TV-like “last person standing” aesthetic to it. Unfortunately, the whole “turn Timmy into a tent stake” thing doesn’t work well for parents trying to improve their connection with kids.

European Board Games

European board games are known in the United States as “Eurogames,” “Euro-style games,” “designer games,” or simply “German board games,” even though the games may actually hail from Germany, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia or elsewhere. 

Several things set Eurogames apart from the mass-market American games you see in your favorite big box store: 

  • Eurogames play fast. Lots of family-friendly games finish in just 30 to 60 minutes (or less), giving you time to play two or three rounds.
  • Strategy and player decisions sit at the center of the action. Players have to think critically instead of simply waiting for the dice to cough up the number they need. Luck is still involved, but the focus is more on skill. 
  • By using indirect competition, all players are engaged in the game until the very end. Nobody gets ejected in the middle because they ran out of money or got a bad roll. Everyone is involved for the entire game, giving you time to sit together, talk together, strategize together and laugh together.

 

Time is the Key

Research suggests families build the best connections when they regularly do lots of simple activities together, balanced with occasional bigger and more complicated activities.

“Simple activities” include things like tossing a ball, going for walks, eating dinner together and (yes) playing board games. The activity itself isn’t the key – the common thread is the simplicity of what you’re doing. The time you spend and the attention you give are what really matters.

Complex activities take you and your family away from home, out of your comfort zone, and off to new and strange destinations like an amusement park, sporting event or vacation getaway. A key part of a complex activity is that you’re doing this activity outside your normal surroundings. You’re experiencing new things, new people, new traditions or new food. 

These two types of activity build what the academic folks call cohesion and flexibility. Simple activities build cohesion – that feeling of being connected to your family. Complex activities build a family’s flexibility – the ability to work together and rely on each other when you’re under stress.

A healthy and connected family takes part in both kinds of activities, finding a good working balance between the two. In this case, that balance typically means the family has a lot of simple activities to every one or two complex ones. That’s just a guideline, but it’s a good rule of thumb. 

Activities Improve Communication

New research into how families spend time together suggests that by doing simple and complex activities, you automatically build better family communication. Even though communication isn’t the primary reason you’re gathering for a family game night or heading off to watch your favorite professional sports team, your family still gets the benefits.

So, as your family sits around the table and plays your favorite board games, you’re having fun while subtly building interpersonal connections and improving your communication abilities. And the more you do it, the better you get.

 

Try These Games for a Start

If building better family connections and communication sounds good to you, then give some of these awesome Eurogames a try. You can find them at your friendly local game store or online through Amazon and other outlets (but please shop local if you can!):

  • 6 Nimmt from Mayfair Games
  • Aquarius from Looney Labs
  • Carcassonne from Z-Man Games
  • Fuse from Renegade Game Studio
  • King of Tokyo from Iello
  • Love Letter from AEG
  • Rhino Hero from Haba
  • Roll for It from Calliope Games
  • Settlers of Catan from Mayfair Games
  • Splendor from Asmodee
  • Sushi Go from Gamewright
  • Ticket to Ride from Days of Wonder

 

John Kaufeld defies rational explanation, but in a good way. His parenting column, “The Dad Game,” appears in the Fort Wayne News Sentinel. He’s also a best-selling author of 25 books in the popular “For Dummies” line of computer books, and he just released his 33rd book, “The Best of The Dad Game,” available online at http://leanpub.com/bestofthedadgame.

Random Thoughts: Show Up and Be Present


Industry

Woody Allen is credited with saying, “80 percent of life is showing up.” A few weeks ago, Suzanne and I were back at Swarthmore College, our alma mater, to see my college baseball coach Ernie Prudente inducted into the athletic hall of fame. Along with a few teammates, I had the opportunity to shake Ernie’s hand, hear a few stories about the “glory days,” and listen to an acceptance speech 40 years in the making. At 88, Ernie had slowed down a bit, but his quick wit, honest nature and engaging smile were as evident as ever. I’m glad I was able to be there and see it for myself.   

Ernie played an important role in my personal development during college, both as a baseball coach and a mentor. But, it was really my dad, Bob Sr., who demonstrated the power of showing up.

Dad spent his first career in the U.S. Army after graduating from West Point. An officer’s early career is often characterized by lots of different home addresses, and his was very typical – a tour in Germany (where yours truly was born) stops in New York, Oklahoma and Kansas, two tours in Vietnam, and a final stop in Pennsylvania. 

Along the way, we always spent significant time with family over holidays or during summer vacations. Dad was also able to carve out time to coach my baseball and basketball teams because he made my brother, my sister and me his first priority. All this effort left me feeling loved and allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the power of our personal bond. 

Once my own kids came along, dad’s personal example continued as he attended endless sporting and school events. Recently, my brother Mike gave me a special photo of dad for Christmas. He’s sitting alone in the stands at one of Bobby’s high school baseball games. Every time I look at it, I get a reality check on the kind of man I want to be – one who is present for family, friends and colleagues. 

As we think about being our best at work, and being a great spouse, parent, sibling or friend, how do these lessons apply?

"Wherever you are, be all there.”

 

  •  In this tech-driven world, this simple quote from Jim Elliott reminds us to be present. In your next meeting, close your laptop or put away your phone so you can engage directly with the other folks in the room. Turn off the TV and eat dinner together as a family. Go for a walk without headphones to just experience who or what is around you.



  • Remember this United Airlines ad? If you do, you’re old like me. Even though the boss mentions the fax machine, the central message is still valid … Ours is a face-to-face business. It’s important to manage expenses and leverage technology, but, whenever prudent, get in the car and go see your clients. Especially in the financial services business where we are selling intangibles, being there in person to read body language and eliminate communication gaps can be the difference between success and failure. You’ll also be better able to build the relationships that will lead to lasting partnerships.

  • Know your prime directives – While Trekkies will be familiar with this phrase, I’ve also found it to be a valuable tool in managing my time. For example, when our kids were still at home, one of my directives was to be present for their high school years. With this in mind, even though I was in a role that required lots of long distance travel, I was able to attend most key games and school events. I even helped with some homework. Knowing how important this was to me and Suzanne gave me the confidence to say no when work events conflicted with the home front.

  • Understand your audience – whether they’re an employee, peer, customer, partner or friend, ask yourself, “What does this person need from me at this moment?” When my uncle Paul died, my parents really wanted Mike and me to be there at the funeral to represent the family but were afraid to ask – my brother and I both have busy lives and the church was three hours from home. But, it only took one conversation with Mike to decide we needed to be there.  

  • Be a good listener – while at Sun Life, my friend Liz named my office conference room the “living room.” While we used it for small team meetings, our best work happened in one-on-one discussions. Sometimes there were laughs, at other times, tears. But on each occasion, we connected. These skills are very applicable when selling, too. Ask open-ended questions, then manage the rest of your process based on their responses.

 

With the holidays upon us, I trust you will have many opportunities to practice being present. Vote with your feet and be there for them, wherever they are.   

 

As executive vice president of life sales distribution, Bob Klein is responsible for all of Ash Brokerage’s life, long-term care and disability income insurance sales. He is driven by his desire to help others get the most out of their natural gifts, and he gets the most satisfaction from seeing others grow and succeed.

 

Random Thoughts

So Glad You Asked … Should I Send Holiday Cards?


Industry

This is a no-brainer … yes, you should. You might be surprised how many businesses think it’s not worth their time and money … wrong, wrong, wrong! This is a case of being penny wise and pound-foolish. Holiday cards are an easy way to let your clients know you value their business, and sends the message that they are a valued relationship, not a number on your bottom line.  

Not Everyone Celebrates Christmas

When you’re getting ready to choose your holiday cards for your business clients, there are several things to think about. First and foremost, it’s probably not a bad idea to make certain they celebrate Christmas. If you have clients you know are Jewish, it’s best to send a Happy Hanukkah card, lest you be perceived as ignorant or insulting. Or, you could skirt the issue completely by sending a card that says “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings,” making certain they do not include any overt religious iconography such as crosses or wise men.

Nothing Says Caring Like a Hand-Written Message

Do you hand write a greeting or use a pre-printed message? It depends. If you’re sending a small number of cards, or perhaps special cards to a smaller group of top clients, hand writing a personal greeting is very desirable. It sends a high-touch message that tells them they’re very special. 

To Sign or Not To Sign

If a handwritten message on each card isn’t practical, at least think about hand signing them unless the quantity makes that unfeasible. Using the “eat the elephant one bite at a time” strategy, you might think about keeping a stack of them on your desk and signing several at a time throughout the day, rather than all at one sitting. Even if there’s a preprinted message, if you can include a personal note it’s even better!

The Grammar Grinch 

If you choose to hand write personal greetings, you should always make certain your grammar is correct, especially the apostrophe. It’s a given that you know the difference between it’s and its, and there, their and they’re. If you are unsure, here’s a popular Internet site: www.grammarly.com

Unnecessary Capitals

Even though the holidays are an exciting time, there’s no need to capitalize everything. If you are writing to wish someone a merry Christmas, resist the temptation to capitalize “merry,” unless it’s at the beginning of a sentence. Same thing goes for “have a happy holiday” or “a prosperous new year.”  

Final Thoughts

Sending Christmas cards may be a dying practice, and that’s a shame. Clients are more inclined to do business with people who give them attention. It’s a smart way to stand apart from the competition … it says you care about them. Remember, people do business with people, not companies.

One of the greatest #ProductivityHacks of 2015


Industry

We all have a to-do list.  I don’t care what form that takes. Whether it’s the back of envelopes, Post-it notes, etc., we all need to know what we need to get done each day.  There are some to-do items that only require you to do something, but what about when the item to do is done by you and then needs to have something done by someone else? Yep – that happens all the time in business and I’ve found nothing greater to get this done than Wunderlist. (P.S. It’s free, too!)

On their website, Wunderlist claims they are the “easiest way to get stuff done – and they really are!  This project-planning tool will allow you to silo out the certain to-do lists that only require your attention while creating separate lists that others can join and be collaborative on that particular item.

It comes with a desktop version you can download, but why bother?  The web version and mobile application are more than enough to keep you on track while at the office or on the road.  I have collaborative to-do lists such as the grocery list (so my husband and children can pick up what’s needed at the store simply by checking what is on their mobile application version of Wunderlist) and I have a to-do list with another colleague on my team to plan out social media campaigns and content for our company, but I have personal to-do lists that include books I want to read, movies I want to watch, etc.

Some other cool features of Wunderlist:

  • You can … take an item that is on one list and move it to another simply by dragging and dropping
  • You can … talk to someone via the messenger part of the app on a particular item to be done and it captures and keeps your note there
  • You can … add attachments that pertain to an item on the to-do list
  • You can … do so much more than all of this!

How about those of you who think, “To-do lists do not work for me!”?  I’m pretty sure I understand this more than you realize.  I recently read an article by Lifehack on this very topic and the bottom-line was: don’t agonize – organize.  That’s what Wunderlist does.  It takes these overwhelmingly large things that have to get done and breaks them down into bite-size nuggets so you actually accomplish more.

I encourage you to check out this terrific to-do list tool (say that 5x fast!) and start getting things done in a more efficient (and social media friendly) way. Any questions – let me know.