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.

Women in Leadership Roles: It’s about Time!

May 21, 2015

woman leader

“I just love bossy women. I could be around them all day. To me, bossy is not a pejorative term at all. It means somebody’s passionate and engaged and ambitious and doesn’t mind leading.” Amy Poehler

For all of the women out there that are in leadership roles or aspire to a leadership role in the construction/engineering industry, first of all, let me applaud you.  We desperately need more women in the industry.  This is a new focus for me.  The industry needs more women and minorities or we will not be sustainable.  Women add so much.  And with the focus on more collaborative project delivery methods, more women is critical to project success.  According to my research, women have better collaborative emotional skills than men.  Women tend to score higher in empathy, social responsibility, and interpersonal relationships.  Men tend to score higher in self-regard, assertiveness, and independence.

My idea is a two-pronged approach:  First, provide meaningful training to all of the women and minorities so that they can navigate their way through this predominantly male, white world and be successful.  There are some very successful women and minorities in the industry.  It’s just a matter of tapping into that resource, quantify the skills that they utilized to reach that level of success, and create a curriculum to teach these skills.  And I believe that these intangible skills are teachable and learnable.  Second, provide training for the majority (white males) on how to better work with women and minorities.  We have to meet in the middle, have some difficult discussions, go beyond stereotypes, and figure it out.

Check out more resources on this issue:

Check out my ENR Viewpoint Article on Diversity  (you may need a subscription to ENR to view)

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg:

There is a new course on Coursera on Women in Leadership.  I have taken some Coursera courses, and they are pretty awesome.  And they are FREE!

A couple more articles from ENR:

1,000-Strong Tradeswomen Gathering Sees Future in Doubled Apprenticeships

(you may need a subscription to ENR to view)

Industry Women Tackle Still Nagging Worksite Challenges

(you may need a subscription to ENR to view)

If you have some ideas and/or you would like to help with this initiative, please let me know.


Be Careful What You Think: How We Create What We Fear

May 14, 2015

Businesswoman protects herself from problems with umbrella

“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.” Hafiz


When you are fearful about something, there is a great tendency to create that very thing.  But why is that? Athletes have always known this reality.  Picture this:  You are playing golf and about to hit a shot over water.  In your mind, you are thinking, “DON’T hit the shot in the water.  DON’T hit the shot in the water.  DON’T hit the shot in the water.”  That is your biggest fear.  And what happens?  You hit the shot in the water.  Why does that happen?  Because your brain doesn’t hear the word “don’t”.  It only hears the action.  It hears, “HIT THE SHOT IN THE WATER!”

Another example is from the workplace.  An employee is so afraid they will lose their job, they shut themselves down.  They don’t offer any innovative ideas, they don’t take any risks, they don’t rock the boat at all.  And what happens?  Because they are not contributing, they are fired.

Negative emotional states create negative energy that affect others and creates negative outcomes.  This is based in neuroscience.  Emotions are contagious from a physiological point of view.  So what are you creating with your emotional states?  Are you more positive than negative?

Try this for a week.  Keep a log of your emotional states.  You can just put a plus or a minus.  If you are positive, optimistic, happy, put down a plus.  If you are negative, pessimistic, seeing the downside, put a minus.  What is your dominant style?

We are raised in a negative environment.  In a recent UCLA study, it was found that a one year old hears the word “NO” as many as 400 times per day.

As engineers, contractors, and other technical folks, we are taught to find the problems.  We are taught to find all of the ways something will not work so we can anticipate fixes.  That is what we are taught to do, to see the negative side.  That is how our brains work.  But are we inadvertently creating what we don’t want?  It’s worth thinking about.


Things I Learned at the Groundbreaking Women in Construction Conference

May 7, 2015

Celebration Community Cheerful Happiness Success Concept

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” ― Stephen R. Covey


Yesterday I was on a panel discussion at the ENR Groundbreaking Women in Construction Conference in New York.  It was a great experience for me.  A couple of things that really stuck out:

1.  This was the first time EVER that I was in the minority.  And I mean THE MINORITY!  There were probably five men there out of 300 attendees.  It was a very different feeling.  I never felt out-of-place really, but I did feel outnumbered.  It was a little intimidating.  I finally felt what it must be like for women and minorities at a normal construction conference filled with mostly middle-aged, white men.

2.  I experienced bathroom discrimination for the first time.  I say that with tongue planted firmly in my cheek.  How many times do we men sail in and out of the bathroom at intermission or the seventh inning stress while the line at the women’s bathroom snakes around the corner for miles?  There were so many women and so few men that they actually put a sign over the men’s restroom that said “WOMEN ONLY”.  I had to go down two floors to use the bathroom.  What a shift in perspective.  Women probably get really frustrated by those long lines and think to themselves, “When are the mostly male architects going to wake up and put in twice as many stalls in the women’s bathrooms?”

3.  Women interact differently than men, at least in construction and engineering.  Men will gather and greet with a cool confidence.  The interactions are low-key and low energy and the topic of conversation is mostly about business.  When a large group of women interact, the energy is amazing!  It is palpable.  The room is buzzing!  They are animated and talking and exchanging business cards and discussing lots of different things, including non-business topics.

4.  Women have some of the same issues as men.  There are some difference such as childcare that are quite different for men and women, but what I took away was that the skills for a woman to be successful in the construction industry are exactly the same skills that men need.  It’s just in a different context and should be taught in a slightly different way to address their specific needs.  Leadership, presence, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence skills are at least a part of those success factors.  Individuals will likely just be working on different areas.

I look forward to more of these kinds of conferences and hope that other industry organizations will reach out and invite this group to the table.  They deserve a seat at that table.

Check out my ENR Viewpoint article on diversity:



The Construction Industry is Finally Focusing on People!

April 23, 2015

Improve soft skills

“Emotional intelligence emerges as a much stronger predictor of who will be most successful because it is how we handle ourselves in our relationships that determines how well we do once we are in a given job.” Daniel Goleman



Okay, by now most of you know that emotional intelligence is my thing.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not the ONLY thing.  I’m not a hammer looking for a nail in everything that I see.  There are other things that make people and projects successful.  Things like technical knowledge, education, experience, creativity, innovation, and a resourceful project team among many others.  All I am saying is that we have become so automated with how we market, bid or negotiate, budget, schedule, and build that this people thing seems to be the only thing left that can be dramatically improved.  It’s the final frontier.  And ask yourself a question:  Are most problems on a project process related or people related?  Everyone knows the answer to that one.  Even safety, quality, and productivity have much more to do with relationships and motivation than some technical procedure that someone doesn’t follow.

I attended Penn State’s PACE Conference this week.  PACE stand for Partnership for Achieving Construction Excellence.  It’s a consortium of students, faculty, and industry.  And the amazing things is that EVERY SINGLE PRESENTATION talked about soft skills, emotional intelligence, trust, collaboration, and all of those things that 13 years ago, when I started my business were WAY out there.  I guess I was just a little early.  I imagine 13 years ago, the focus was mostly on technical subjects and research.

From strictly a business point of view, think of emotional intelligence as a differentiator.  Most contractors and engineers have the same reputation, the same brand identity, and the same marketing.  They are reliable, responsible, technically excellent, and they can execute a project like nobody’s business.  But it seems to me that everyone is bringing that to the table.  Contractors get the same vendor and subcontractor and material prices so there is no competitive advantage there.  So what is your competitive advantage?  It’s your people.  Period.  And it’s not their technical expertise or experience.  That is an expectation.  That is the price of entry.  What owners are looking for are people who can create great relationships, who are easy to work with, who create a sense of team.  And many of the owners want the process to be more fun and engaging.  Life’s too short.  That’s why we teach our clients how to create a positive emotional experience instead of transaction.  The book, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Kahneman tells us through a lot of research that people make buying decisions based more on emotion, memory, and ease than anything else.

If you are focused on the numbers, reducing margins and overhead, looking for technical solutions for a competitive advantage, then you may be looking in the wrong place.  Owners will choose you because they like you, trust you, and respect you.  They will choose you because of the way you made them feel during the last project.  I know what some of you are thinking.  It’s all about the low bidder.  That is rapidly changing.  Defaulting subcontractors and contractors, rising material prices, high risk, and low margins make everyone fight for every nickel.  And many of these projects are ending up in court.  The lawyers will be the only ones making money on those projects.

If you want to know more, contact my admin, Casey at and mention this blog.  She will send you the PDF version of the third edition of The People Profit Connection for free.


The One Thing You Can Do to Make Your Life Better

April 14, 2015

worker in zen position

“The mind is everything. What you think, you become.” Buddha



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.  Harvard Medical recently found that regular meditation actually changes the expression of genes and lengthens the telomeres.  Shortened telomeres indicate aging.  So it actually reverses the aging process.  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.

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.


All of Your Emotional Intelligence Questions Answered!

April 9, 2015

People ask me all of the time about emotional intelligence and its relevance to them and their businesses.  This recent podcast answers tons of those questions.

First, I’ll answer what emotional intelligence is NOT:

It’s NOT:

touchy-feely, psychobabble, mumbo-jumbo, theory, being nice to people, group hugs, or singing kumbaya!

It is:

discerning and managing your emotions and managing the emotions of others for the best outcome for yourself and that situation.  It’s vital for your health and well-being and your success in life and work.  It’s based in neuroscience and physics.  It’s about energy and the way your brain works.

Here is the link to the podcast for more:

If you have any other questions, just ask!


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