How Many Seeds in an Apple?

It’s spring and my old apple trees, planted by settlers in
this valley, are in full blossom.

I admire the extra work that pioneers made to improve life
for those who would live generations after them. They remind me of mentors who
willingly contribute to others.

Think of someone who has made a significant investment in
your life.

  • Why did they invest in you?
  • Do you think they invested in others too?

When I consider these questions, I think of Professor Steven

My first literature class with him was a surprise. He was
young; I assumed he was a Teaching Assistant. (Later, I found out he was Chair
of the English Department and got his Ph.D. from Harvard at 24.) He was smart.

His openness as a professor was legendary. He would often
say, “I have never thought of that,” or, “That is an insightful point”—unique
for a someone who “knows it all.” He was perennially voted “Professor of the
Year” for good reasons. I took as many of his classes as I could. The engaging
way he taught and learned from his students had a profound impact on me.

It was when I applied to an MBA program that I really needed
him. A year and a half out of college, I prepared myself to call his office and
ask (beg, plead) for a letter of recommendation. It was unlikely that he would
even remember me, but he was my best chance to make it into any program.
Honestly, I was a long shot.

I rehearsed what I would say and made the call. I couldn’t
steady my nerves. With a breaking voice, I introduced myself. Before I could say
another word, he jumped in and said, “Oh, Craig. It’s so good to hear your
smiling voice.”

I was speechless. He was gracious.

Not only did he help by writing a letter of recommendation,
he took extra time to proof my “well-intended” essays. His mentorship came at a
critical and vulnerable time. I have spent my career trying to “pay forward”
his impact on my life.

Steven Walker is an amazing example of someone who saw
potential and endless possibilities in others: “It’s not the seeds in an apple,
but the apples in a seed.”

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Tiny Triggers, Huge Habits

it, your brain is lazy.  It’s not you,
it’s your brain. 

its many strengths, one of the most primal is the ability to conserve
energy.  While not as critical today,
this survival instinct prevented our hunter/gatherer ancestors from running out
of energy on a hunt and becoming the prey. 

faced with cleaning the room or sitting on the couch, the brain will vote couch
every time.  So, if you’ve decided to
begin a new habit or routine, your brain needs help.

creating an easy “on ramp” to the highway of habit.  This would require identifying a “tiny
trigger” that is a remarkably small action that directs the brain’s focus to a
new habit or behavior.  While it is
insignificant by itself, it triggers a domino effect of actions needed to
engage in a new routine.

I decided (the easy part) to build more core upper body strength, I set a “tiny
trigger” which would be super easy for my brain to agree with: “Do at least one
sit up daily.”  (Nothing scary, nothing

that’s my trigger, “If I have finished running, then I will do at least one sit

one sit up seems insignificant (and it is), this is our ‘edge on evolution’
that our hunter/gather ancesters didn’t have, our ‘foot in the door’ technique.
Starting with one makes it easy to trigger more by tapping into something
similar to Newton’s First Law, an object
in motion stays in motion.
It’s almost easier to keep going than it is to

sit up turns into five, six or seven. 
Before you know it you can crank out seventy.  Before you know it, you can add just one push
up…and just one pull up.

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When Decision meets Obsession

This year I decided to write on a regular schedule. Committing
to it was a strategic decision. The decision part felt good. However, I quickly
learned that choosing is easy; doing is hard.

It was 6 am and I was staring at my computer screen, waiting for
inspiration. I was there to write a blog, and it just didn’t come. Questions came
to mind:

  • Should I come back to
  • Did I submit my expense
  • Am I really a writer?
  • Is the dryer turned on?

I was paralyzed by the blinking cursor. How was I going to create
content if I couldn’t write? (Strategies for “curating” other people’s content swirled
up in my mind as an option.)

Morten Hansen, author of Great
at Work
, sums up his research on personal productivity by observing that:

“Picking a few priorities is only half the equation. The other
half is the harsh requirement that you must obsess over your chosen area of
focus to excel.”

What Steve Jobs did for Apple embodies this quote. After being
ousted as Apple CEO, Jobs returned in 1997. He made the decision to reduce the
number of Apple products by 70%. His focus on the success of the remaining 30%
is legendary.

Not only did it save the company from insolvency, it created an
obsession for execution that is the hallmark of Apple’s success today.

Hansen encourages us to, “Do
less, then obsess.”
Only extreme dedication creates the extraordinary focus
needed for extraordinary results. Tiger Woods’ recent win of the Masters is
another example of what years of extraordinary obsession can do.

So, I stayed at my computer. For 20 minutes I did a stare-down
with the screen. I finally decided to write something stupid. And I did, and it
was. And I wrote another line, and it was less stupid. By 10 am I had three
blogs ready to go. But more importantly, I had done what I committed to do.

Make the hard decisions, then stay with them long enough to
obsess over making them better.

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The Courage of “Imperfection”

We admire masters, famous athletes, and legendary musicians.

It is painfully easy to compare our worst to their best. Even easier to feel the futility of achieving similar feats.

When did LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or Michael Jordan first demonstrate the courage to become NBA superstars? My bet: Long before their points added up on the scoreboard.

What enables them to push through the pain of constant failure that inevitably comes with their level of achievement? My bet: Courage.

As young children, we had unlimited determination. We tried everything courageously—walking, talking, creating, exploring. And the world around us typically applauded our efforts. Then the school-years hit, and suddenly it wasn’t okay to try and fail. We were measured and applauded for our successes, not for our efforts.

Those years of conditioning in school follow us into the workplace. We often stick to the safe places—areas that we’re good at and know we can succeed. That behaviour shields us from fear and vulnerability, but it also shields us from achieving our full potential.

To achieve what’s possible requires a return to childhood courage. We need to once again unabashedly create, explore, and risk to learn new things.

Most of us know the fear of pushing past our comfort zone to a higher potential only to feel like an impostor or fraud.

On a recent conference call, I was asked for my opinion by the Chief Executive. The call went silent. It was like I went into a slow-motion moment. The self-doubt was instantaneous:

  • Am I sure?
  • What if I’m wrong?
  • Shouldn’t I know more?

I forced myself out of freeze mode, stated my opinion, and waited. I remember physically flinching in fear (for what seemed like minutes) for her response. My insecurities started multiplying as I prepared to be criticized business-school style.

She finally broke the silence, “Very helpful insight, thank you.”

As these moments of doubt repeat themselves, I strive to embrace the challenge and push through with determination. My mantra has become, “embrace it till you make it.”

“Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly…at first.” Sound wisdom based on biology. Whether the new skill is riding a bike, speaking a language, or hitting a three-pointer, we need to get comfortable with the discomfort of imperfection.

Dan Coyle (Talent Code) observed:

Struggle isn’t an option, it’s a biological requirement.

As it was when we were small children, so it is now—without pushing beyond our comfort zones, we don’t grow. Comfort dominates at the sensitive margin where our skill and capability meet. Growth happens when we push beyond it. It takes a fierce resolution to be okay with making mistakes. Lots of mistakes.

Get up, take a few steps, fall, get up again… repeated again and again with the whole world watching. What could be more courageous than that?

Michael Jordan admits:

I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life.
And that is why I succeed.

Worry less about being imperfect or an imposter; worry more about becoming courageous in imperfection. Try taking a scary new action this week that requires you to “embrace it till you make it.”




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In the movie “Limitless”, Bradley Cooper plays an unmotivated deadbeat writer who becomes a Wall Street superstar…in a matter of days.  His secret?  A daily pill that unlocks the entire capability of his brain.

Within thirty seconds he begins to see new connections and remembers everything he’s ever heard or seen. (My favorite line, “Math actually became useful.”)

His downside?  The pill is killing him.  Not a perfect scenario, but an intriguing idea:  What if you had that power?

Here’s the good news: You are limitless.  The bad news:  A pill won’t do it.

The idea of a quick fix is sexy, but only the compounding consistency of craftsmanship will get you results.  And that will happen over time.

Anders Ericsson’s empirical research in Peak makes it clear:

 What sets experts apart from the rest of us is that their years of practice have changed the neural circuitry… which in turn make possible the incredible memory, pattern recognition, problem solving, and other sorts of advanced abilities.

These world-class capabilities are available to all of us.  We just need to realize the potential we already have.  One day at a time, over time.

Bill Gates makes an interesting observation:

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

Don’t short what you can accomplish. You don’t need a pill to be a prodigy, just a commitment to improvement. Craftsmanship can enable you to create a new window of limitless potential.

Open it wide.

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Eat your Verbs

What parent hasn’t told their kids to eat a well-balanced meal. Yet, the mac and cheese goes quickly and the broccoli remains on the plate.

As adults we know what’s good for us. But the mac and cheese still goes first. And we continue to struggle with the greens.

Much easier to dream about being fit someday, than to eat better everyday.

Austin Kleon, author of How to Steal Like an Artist, put it this way:

“Everyone wants to be the noun, without doing the verb.”

We want to be the “boss”, a “player” or the “winner”. We love to dream about being a noun that astounds and impresses. Not so much when it comes doing the action-verb-work of daily improvement.

Are your daily actions leading to becoming the noun you admire?

I can almost hear my Mom saying: “Craig, sit up straight. Square your shoulders. And eat your verbs.”


Call to Craftsmanship: What verbs are on your plate today?



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Driven by kraft

A foundation for kraft is a love for the work that you do.  This passion generates drive and accomplishment:

  • It becomes the measure of your devotions, the strength behind your intentions.  
  • The driving force of your commitment to improve your service to serve others, and in turn, success for yourself.  
  • It is the steel rod of resolve down the back of every student who has the discipline to do their work. Every day. Days into weeks, weeks into months, years into careers.

I infuse kraft with specific meaning helpful to those developing mastery and elite performance.  My definition:


kraft is an artistic use of the Danish word for force or strength.  It is the power in each of us that drives us to do more, be more and contribute more.

It’s kraft that has driven the evolution of civilizations, the creation of symphonies and the development of artificial intelligence. It is echoed in the writings of thought leaders and imbedded in the great philosophies of the world.  Always encouraging us to become better.


Wikipedia, definition of “Arete”:

Arete to the Stoic philosophers was the idea of excellence, the fulfillment of purpose or function: “the act of living up to one's full potential.”

Marcus Aurelius, Stoic philosopher and Emperor of Rome:

Everything – a horse, a vine – is created for some duty… For what task, then, were you yourself created?  A man’s true delight is to do the things he was made for.

Abraham Moslow, the modern humanistic psychologist who developed the hierarchy of needs and father of positive psychology:

Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write…. What human beings can be, they must be. They must be true to their own nature. This need we may call self-actualization.

Robert Greene, author of Mastery:

The first move toward mastery is always inward—learning who you really are and reconnecting with that innate force. Knowing it with clarity, you will find your way to the proper career path and everything else will fall into place. It is never too late to start this process.

Seth Godin, marketing mastermind:

Each of us can work to become the person we seek to be. A better version of the person we are right now. Doing work we’re proud of for people we care about.

Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art:

When we’re living as amateurs, we’re running away from our calling—meaning our work, our destiny, the obligation to become our truest and highest selves.

Victor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, author of Man’s Search for Meaning:

Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life… Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated.  

The Buddha, or “enlighten one”:  

Your work is to discover your work and then, with all your heart, to give yourself to it.

How much do you love what you do?  How driven are you to becoming the best version of yourself? Now is the time to unleash the power of kraft in your life.


Call to Craftsmanship:  What could kraft drive you to do?


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What is kraftworx?

kraft is an artistic use of the Danish word for force or strength.  It is the power in each of us that drives us to do more, be more and contribute more.  It’s my take on the root of craftsmanship that describes a deep passion for the art of your skill.

worx is a lab, a studio or workspace where your vocation comes alive.  It's the crossroads of preparation and innovation.  It's an exciting place to be.

In Stephen Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, he asks us to consider:

What do you love enough to turn Pro?  What are you so passionate about that you would put all of your time and focus on?...  What ails us is living our lives as amateurs.

Amateurs experience the continuous pain of process without improvement.  They tread the hamster wheel of “same thing, different day.”

The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time. The amateur is a weekend warrior.  The professional is there seven days a week.

kraftworx is where those who want to become Pros come to play.  They’re all in, fully committed and show proper reverence for the quality of their contribution.

While mastery is innate in each of us, we often forget over time.  The art is remembering what you can become.  And kraftworx is a place to inspire you with the strength and force to rediscover it in yourself.


Call to Craftsmanship:  What next step would you take to turn Pro?


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Goals are for Losers

Just having a goal is the best way to ensure that you will lose. Even if you are obsessed with achieving it, a goal can be a grand distraction.

You will kid yourself that you have something meaningful to work towards. Ambition to accomplish the extraordinary won’t get you any more traction than a “vision board” papered with inspiring images (…it’s a dirty little “secret” that we love to believe, but isn’t true.)

It's the stuff of losers.

Ben Bergeron, coach to CrossFit world champions, calls it like this:

We’ve been told that high achievers are those who are out there enthusiastically setting goals….In reality, it’s the opposite. People tend to focus disproportionately on results, while neglecting the day-to-day things that will get them there.

Setting goals can be helpful. Clarity of direction is a good first step. The trouble is we often stop there. Most don’t implement the “next steps.”

For example, consider an annual sales quota: Here’s where my sales are today, and here’s where I need them to be on December 31st. A very clear target.

The challenge is even if I hit my quota on November 30th, a month early, I just spent eleven months as a loser. Everyday that I don’t hit my goal, I lose.

Scott Adams (How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big) observes that with goals you are always in a perpetual state of losing, if you ever win at all. He points out that you can win every day if you follow your system to hit your goal.

Ask this question to determine whether your goal is a pipedream: “What’s your daily process to achieve your goal?” Edwards Deming said,

“If you can’t describe what you do as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.”

So here’s the litmus test: Can you describe the daily system that tracks to your goal? If you can’t, you don’t have a system, you have an ambition (that you refer to as a goal).

Legendary NCAA football coach, Nick Saban, famously said, “It’s ‘the process’ that makes Alabama work.” His advice:

Don’t think about winning the SEC Championship. Don’t think about the national championship. Think about what you needed to do in this drill, on this play, in this moment. That’s the process: Let’s think about what we can do today, the task at hand.

His goal is not winning. It’s on the “process”. The system that has won his program a whole bucket full of National Titles.

Call to Craftsmanship: What systems are most critical to your goals?


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Failure- Building Blocks or Stumbling Stones

Why does failure bother us so much?

We know that trial and error is part of the formula. Intellectually we accept trial, but not so much with error. Here’s where it gets personal (Ego) or professional (Craftsmanship):

  • Ego perspective–when we fail we let the shame of being a “loser” shape our identity. And our ego hates that. Failure becomes a “judgment” against you, one that reinforces your fear of not being “good enough.” You are an imposter that just got busted.
  • Craftsmanship perspective–failure is a building block to success. Just another detour on the trip to success. Frustrating, yes, but expected and manageable.

Your perspective will decide which trajectory you experience. Not from a simplistic Positive Mental Attitude approach, but from a core and visceral level of drive and motivation.

People who are committed to the relentless journey of improvement see something different when they fail. Consider Peter Sims’ (Little Bets) capture of how one of the most successful animation studios in the world “un-sucks”:

When Ed Catmull (President, Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios) sums up Pixar’s creative process, he describes it as going from ‘suck to unsuck.’ Pixar film ideas begin on rough storyboards that suck until they work through thousands of problems throughout the process in order to take films from suck to unsuck…

Of course, just failing is not the key; the key is to be systematically learning from failures. To be closely monitoring what’s working and making good use of that information.

Nick Saban is Head Coach of the University of Alabama’s football team and one of the most successful coaches in NCAA football history. His advice:

“Don’t waste failure.”

His encouragement is to get technical about what you need to do to improve to prevent another failure. Always in the context of what you did, not the other person. Because that’s the only thing you can improve. That’s how you win because of failure.

I’ve had my own brilliant disasters. And I have been deeply challenged in how I would interpret them.

My Junior year in college I lost the general election for Student Body President. It was such a fantastic failure, especially when it’s so painfully public. The day before the election I greeted everyone with a smarmy thumbs up, the day after I tried not to make eye contact.

I learned a lot about intestinal fortitude from that loss. Though not as consciously as I wish I could have. (It’s strange, years later I can remember the votes it would have taken to change the outcome.)

I adopted a new mantra gleaned from that experience: “NTC” (Nothing To Chance). I used that blistering experience to steel my resolve to get a post-college job on Wall Street (as an English Major, no mean feat) and into Business School for an MBA.

Failure can become fuel for growth, (however painful) or a damning judgment that stops us in our tracks. And how we view it matters.

Josh Waitkins, (The Art of Learning) calls this process of learning from failure as “investment in loss.” This requires a beginner’s mind and is the ultimate in humility. Easier to do when there are no expectations of you, harder when others expect performance and production.

I learned this lesson the hard way coming off a successful stint as General Manager in a publicly traded company. Having proven a Midas touch, I was ready to start my own company.

The fact that I had no entrepreneurial, industry, or venture capital experience didn’t slow me down a bit. I literally bet the farm (our entire life savings) on my success. After eleven months, we never got a product to market or secured the funding we needed. It was a complete crash and burn.

While very painful, the experience etched new lessons into my psyche. My new steppingstones (learned from failing) when starting a business would be:

  • Play to your strengths
  • Stack the deck with winnable games
  • Choose complimentary partners
  • Let quality drive quantity

Choosing to “invest in loss” changed how I approached my next entrepreneurial opportunity. While my first was a complete “break down,” my second startup was a “break even,” and my third was finally a “break out” success.

“Pixar directors understand what seasoned entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and agile software developers do: The faster they fail, the faster they will discover promising opportunities.”  – Peter Sims

I make a conscious choice to have the humility to see failure for what it is: Building Blocks of success.

Call to Craftsmanship:  What is keeping you from paving over your stumbling stones of failure?




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