On Death and Dying

July 9, 2015

Friends & Family Photo24 copy

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” ― Shannon L. Alder


This is my mom with two of my brothers.  That’s me on her lap.  Mom is dying.  We’re not sure when this will happen exactly, but the decline is accelerating.  I know that sounds really sad.  And there is sadness when some someone you love leaves this earth.  But there is also a sense of celebration.  Mom has been suffering from Dementia/Alzheimer’s the past few years and she has gradually left us over time.  A decade ago, mom was vibrant and alive.  She was loud and brash and bigger than life. She loved life, and yet she was a paradox. She could be difficult and angry and she could also be extremely warm and funny.  She never met a stranger.   She was and is loved by many. The Dementia has softened her, weathered her, and made her quiet and content.  Now that her time is near, she is gentle and easy, not in any pain.  She professes to be happy and she professes love.  She still lights up whenever me or my brothers walk into the room.  She knows us.  She knows that we love her and she knows that she loves us.

I had a realization that although this is very sad for us, there is reason to rejoice.  She will transition into what we all believe to be a better place where she will be coherent and free and connected with those who have gone before her.  We are asking all who knew her to think of a time when she made them laugh.  Think of one of the many jokes that she told so well.  Tootie Green comes to mind, or when she would sing, “She’s got freckles on her but she is pretty”.  Think of a time when she opened her house to you and let you stay without question or judgment.  Think of the time that she served a wonderful meal.  Think of how she decorated her house for every holiday. Think of her at work having fun and creating a sense of play.  Think of her as she was in your mind, share a story about her, and send those positive thoughts her way as she transitions into the next wonderful place.


What Do the Top 400 Contractors Know that You Don’t Know?

July 2, 2015

Business Man and giant Pointing Hand

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Henry Ford


I just reviewed the latest Top 400 Contractors in Engineering News Record and found out that I have worked with 11 of the top 50 contractors.  I’m pretty proud of that fact.  I’ve worked with some amazing companies.  I think these successful contractors have figured out something that other contractors have not figured out.  It boils down to a three main things:

1.  They Embrace Technology: These companies have seen the future and try to remain on the cutting edge of technology.  There are amazing things afoot and if you are just now starting to think about technology and your business, you are WAY behind.

2.  Know that Collaboration is the Key to the Future:  Even construction owners are beginning to realize that collaboration is really the way to go.  They are starting to drive these processes.  Design/Build, Design Assist, Lean, IPD, ILPD are all project delivery models that are here to stay.  We are figuring out how to execute them in the best possible way, but in time, these delivery methods will be the norm.  It will just be how we do business.  There will still be room for Design/Bid/Build models, but they will be fewer and fewer as time goes by.  Collaboration is the future for the industry.

3.  Focus on People:  These companies know to do their best to provide to their people everything they need to be successful.  They give their people the resources to improve themselves and their lives, to cultivate mastery in all areas of their lives that are important to them both professionally and personally.  These companies know that they must exhibit a true sense of caring toward their employees, to embrace them as human beings and to provide for them and nurture them as best they can.  They know that diversity and inclusion are vital to the future of the industry.  By including everyone in this future, they are ensuring that this industry can be sustained.  They also know that diversity makes for a stronger company with better ideas and more innovative ways of doing business.

For those of you who are interested in thriving, take a look at these three things.  The train is leaving the station.  Will you be on it?  Let me know what you think!



Shatter Stereotypes, Create More Diversity, Save the World

June 25, 2015

Featured image

“Along with the evidence of common sense, researchers have proven scientifically that humans are all one people. The color of our ancestors’ skin and ultimately my skin and your skin is a consequence of ultraviolet light, of latitude and climate. Despite our recent sad conflicts here in the US, there really is no such thing as race. We are one species—each of us much, much more alike than different. We all came from Africa. We all are of the same stardust. We are all going to live and die on the same planet, a pale blue dot in the vastness of space. We have to work together.” Bill Nye, the Science Guy

I was walking down the street the other day and saw something I had never seen before.  It was an Asian couple with two very white, Caucasian daughters.  Stereotype turned on its head.  Paradigm shifted.  It made me think about my own prejudices and biases (conscious and unconscious) based on lots of things:  how I was raised (in the Southern USA), the media (and how they portray women and minorities), my education, my spiritual path, and the industry I grew up in (construction). I’m sure all of those things shape my world view.  So what can we all do to address these inherent biases?


Did you know that the concept of race is totally arbitrary?  The original concept of race:  Caucasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid was a social classification based on physical characteristics, not biological ones.  They could have just as easily chosen foot size, eye color, or cranium diameter.  And these physical classifications of race were ultimately used to stereotype groups of people in order to control and manipulate them.

When scientists mapped the human genome, they found that we are 99.9% alike in our DNA.  One tenth of one percent of our DNA accounts for ALL of our differences.  Wow!  That’s a pretty small percentage.  We are far more alike than we are different.  Remember that in all your encounters with other human beings.


Let’s cultivate love and compassion for all: all religions, all philosophies, all victims, all perpetrators, all human beings. It’s the only thing that will ultimately stop the madness.

The harrowing tragedies of late in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston make us all think about these issues of race.  The media mostly portrays the conflict in terms of race, which fuels that fire of difference and further separates us.

When John Stewart interviewed Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner.  The Taliban shot her in the head for speaking out for women’s rights and education. John Stewart asked her how she reacted when she learned that the Taliban wanted her dead. Here is her response:

“I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”

What if we all cultivated that attitude?


The male/female divide is also interesting.  Did you know that we all start out as women? The sex hormones that are released well into development are what causes us to be men instead of women.  So we are already developing as women prior to this influx of male hormones. So the presence of males on the planet may just be a genetic aberration (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

There are male/female differences.  Our brains are different.  We are wired differently. The corpus callosum, the bridge that connects the right and left sides of the brain is thicker in female fetuses than in male fetuses. Young girls are better with language and fine motor skills. Young boys are better with spatial skills.  Women are faster and more accurate at identifying and controlling strong emotions such as anger and aggression.  These are all brain hard wiring facts.

So what does this all mean?  I’m not naive enough to think that we can all love each other and just get along.  Maybe that’s the real key.  To show true compassion and understand these two fundamental things:  that we are completely different and that we are 99.9% alike.  If we could hold those two concepts in our heads and know that most of us want simple things such as to love and be loved and to have a nice life (safe and free) with family and friends, we could make some changes in this world.  And make no mistake.  It starts with every single individual.  Sow love, not hate.

The Problems with Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) and How to Overcome Them

June 18, 2015

Dude x 9 the builders at puzzle construction site.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” ― Helen Keller



The big buzz phrase in the construction industry is Integrated Project Delivery or IPD.  Disney has a concept called ILPD or Integrated Lean Project Delivery.  This uses not only a collaborative approach to projects, but also uses the Last Planner System and Lean concepts to eliminate waste, focus on adding value, and continuously improving.  Everyone on the project signs an integrated form of agreement that commits to shared risk and reward and cooperation throughout the project.

This is a very good concept that is getting a lot of attention.  There are incredible success stories and stories of unmitigated disasters that have used the IPD model.  So what is the secret sauce?  What contributes to success as opposed to failure?  My gut feeling is that the people dimension of this process is a critical factor to its success.  Take a look at the typical emotional profile for a large group of folks (over 500) who manage the construction process:

average EQ for third edition-graph only


As you can see, the relatively high scores are self-regard, independence, assertiveness, stress tolerance, and reality testing (black/white thinkers).  The relatively low scores are impulse control, flexibility, emotional self-awareness, empathy, interpersonal relationships, and social responsibility (the ability to work in groups and teams).  This is a bell curve distribution, so 100 is the mean.  Let’s put it this way.  This group of construction managers couldn’t get any of the interpersonal skills to the mean.  That means that all of the interpersonal skills are BELOW AVERAGE!

This does not bode well for collaborative project delivery methods.  We must address these emotional competencies first.  Then, we must cultivate the relationships and create trust.  Then, and only then, can we properly plan the project.  We have a program called Beyond Partnering.  We developed it because we found that our leadership programs created a lot of trust and close relationships that increased the effectiveness of project teams.  So we do our normal program spread out over time, we just do it in the context of a project.  The tag line for Beyond Partnering is “You have to build the people before you build the project.”  If you would like more information on this approach, email me and I will send you our Beyond Partnering outline.

The Power of Passion!

June 11, 2015


“When you set yourself on fire, people love to come and see you burn.” — John Wesley

I recently saw the Rolling Stones in Atlanta.  Mick Jagger is 70 years old.  Lead guitarist Keith Richards is 70.  Drummer Charlie Watts is 72. Ronnie Wood is the youngster at only 66 years old.  And these guys did a two hour show that would have left folks half their age exhausted.  The jumped, they danced, they gyrated, they were all over a very large stage.  They really put it out there. It was a high energy rockfest, and the crowd went wild!

How in the world do they do this?  It is very clear to me that these guys have been at the top of their games for decades, making incredible music.  The other thing that struck me is that they absolutely LOVE what they do.  They are very passionate about their music and about performing.  They don’t “go through the motions”.  They don’t rest on their past success.  They love what they do so much they are constantly striving to take it to the next level, even with their advanced years.

I absolutely love what I do.  I can’t imagine doing anything else.  And I am constantly looking for ways to improve, to learn, to help the industries that I support transform themselves.  It is my mission in life and after this concert, I will rededicate myself to showing my passion even more.

What about you?  Do you have something that you are passionate about?  Do you love what you do?  Remember, my friend, that life is very short.  Either find something that your passionate about with your present circumstances or find something else!  Remember what brought you into what you are presently doing in the first place.  We lose passion in the day-to-day drudgery of work. But it is there, hidden underneath all of the crap.  Find it again and reconnect to it!

Let me know what you are passionate about and how you have reconnected with it.  I would love to hear from you.


The Secret of Life: What ONE THING should I focus on?

June 5, 2015

Meditation illustration

“Meditation is a way for nourishing and blossoming the divinity within you.” ― Amit Ray

Take a look at this video from the movie, City Slickers:

When I do these leadership programs, the participants always ask me,  what’s the one thing that I could do that would make the biggest difference?  I understand the question.  We are all busy.  We can’t do dozens of things.  We can’t commit to an hour in the gym, seven days a week.  We can’t go on a sabbatical for a month.  So what is that one thing that can make a huge difference?  It’s meditation. We strongly emphasize this in our courses.  In order to create well-being, in order to be productive, in order to tap into that higher power, we must have reflection time each day.  It doesn’t have to be long.  It can be as little as 10 minutes.  But it has to be consistent.  I probably average four to five days a week where I sit down and be quiet and not do any planning or worrying or problem solving.  Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, says that anyone who is trying to attain personal mastery should practice some form of meditation.

Studies have shown that meditation increases focus and changes physiology.  It reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, and increases DHEA, the “youth” hormone.  It relaxes you.  It increases problem solving.  It increases your energy levels.  So if it does all of these amazing thins, why doesn’t everyone do it?  For some it seems too “new age”.  For some, it seems cult like.  They think that it conflicts with their religious beliefs.  But think of it as just an exercise in concentration.  You can apply your own belief system to these techniques so that you are comfortable with it.

Harvard Medical School recently completed a study on mediation.  The study published in May in a prestigious medical journal showed that one session of relaxation-response practice was enough to enhance the expression of genes involved in energy metabolism and insulin secretion and reduce expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress.  This means that meditation actually helps prevent autoimmune diseases and inflammation that is linked to many diseases.

As if that weren’t cool enough, regular mediation actually lengthens the telomeres on our genes.  These shoelace-like structures shorten with age.  So meditation is a bonafide way to reverse the aging process!

Here is a very simple meditation technique:

Take a deep breath in.  Breathe out and think the number one.  Breathe in again.  Breathe out again.  Think the number two.  Breathe in again.  Breathe out.  Think the number three.  Breathe in a fourth time.  Breathe out and think the number four.  Then start again at one.  Other thoughts will enter your mind.  Politely dismiss them and go back to breathing and counting.  Do this for around 5 to 10 minutes.  Set a timer if you need to.

You will no doubt find this hard at first.  But the more you do it, the more you will be able to focus.  Not only during the meditation, but in all areas of your life and work.  You will be more relaxed and more resilient to stress.

I have created a guided meditation CD that takes you through a progressive relaxation followed by visualizations.  If you are interested, you can contact my Executive Assistant, Casey at casey@brentdarnell.com.  We should have it on the store on brentdarnell.com very soon, but we can find a way to get it to you if you are interested.

You can also check out my book, Stress Management, Time Management, and Life Balance for Tough Guys if you want more information:


Let me know if you want to learn more about meditation and the various techniques.

Innovate or Die!

May 28, 2015

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein


Albert Einstein was a pretty smart guy.  And HE said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  He told an interviewer that he came up with the Theory of Relativity by imagining himself riding on a beam of light.  In this highly competitive market, companies must innovate or they may not be around much longer.  Does your competition suck?  Probably not.  Can you win projects and market share on your expertise and resume alone?  That may have been true 10 or 20 years ago.  But not today.

Think about it.  The only two things you have that differentiates you from your competition is your people and innovation.  I talked in previous blogs about paying attention to companies that are thriving in this economy.  Google, Apple, Zappos, and Cisco all invest a lot of  time and energy on two things:  1.  Making sure that their people are engaged and excited about what they are doing.  and 2.  Creating an atmosphere of innovation.

How do they do this?  The first thing is to pay attention to the needs of the employees.  They continuously talk to employees about how they appreciate what they do.  Managers walk around and interact and get to know the employees and their passions, likes, dislikes, and motivations.  Secondly, they create a climate where innovation is rewarded.  There are no bad ideas.  Everything is considered.  They don’t negate new ideas.  They embrace everything as a possibility and discuss the options.  They create an environment where people can come together formally and informally to share ideas and thoughts on how business is done and how to make it better.   Employees are taught to silence that inner critic and managers are taught to say “yes, and” and “thank you”  instead of “no, but” and “we tried that before in 1980 and it didn’t work.”

What is the atmosphere at your company?  Is it open to new ideas and innovation?  We all must think very differently to survive.  Early designers of flying machines used movable wings because it emulated a bird in flight.  But it wasn’t until the paradigm was shifted with fixed wing aircraft that manned flight became possible.  There are artificial hearts that emulate a real heart with chambers and a flow of blood that causes a heartbeat.  But the latest innovation in that arena is an artificial heart with continuous flow.  There is no beat.  It is a simple pump that continuously flows the blood through your body.  This paradigm shift is leading to very efficient and simple artificial hearts.  But it took someone to look at the way things were being done and say, “What if?”

What is your expertise?  What are your people’s talents?  How can you leverage that in a business setting to create new revenue streams?  Don’t think about how you’ve always done business.  Think about what value you and your people bring and see if that is applicable in other areas.  Get a group discussion going and brainstorm this concept.  You never know where it will lead.


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