Miraculous Meditation

January 23, 2017

meditation suit

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, more resilient to stress, and you will have more energy at the end of the day.


Innovation, Part 2: Top 10 Outrageous Ideas for the Construction Industry

February 19, 2015


“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein



Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” quote is usually taken out of context.  By “fittest”, he didn’t mean the strongest.  He meant the one who could adapt.  Those are the ones who survive.

The movie, Moneyball, is a great reminder of this concept.  It is the tale of someone who truly thought about how to do things differently.  Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, wanted to “change the game” of baseball by abandoning the traditional scouting process and use statistical analyses and to find the “right” players to attain the correct number of runs to attain the correct number of wins to attain a playoff slot.  And it worked quite well.  The Athletics won 20 in a row, setting a new baseball record.  There is a downside to the story.  They never won any championships, but they consistently have good teams even though their budgets are 40% less than some other big league team’s budgets.  The ROI on this approach is undeniable.

So how do we think differently about the construction business?  I have a few ideas.  Many of these are not my concepts.  There are companies who do these things already.  But can we find a way to adapt these ideas to this industry and our business?

Here are my top 10 crazy ideas for the construction industry:

10.  Make every employee do anything other than work for one hour a day.  It can be anything from surfing the web to rollerblading.  This gives them some downtime and clears their head for thinking in innovative ways.  Your employees will be more creative, less stressed, and more satisfied.

9.  Put in nap/recharge rooms for employees so that they can restore themselves throughout the day.  There is study after study that shows that this improves the bottom line and the health of your employees.

8.  Let employees bring pets and/or children to work.

7.  Create a ROWE (Results Oriented Work Environment).  Let employees set their own work hours and also self direct as to what they want to work on.  You can set work goals, but not tell them how or when they need to be done.

6.  Collaborate with each other (throughout the industry, even competitors) on best practices for marketing, purchasing, procurement, delivery, etc.  Help each other and share the rewards.  Come from a place of abundance that there is enough work for everyone.

5.  Find as many ways as possible to create a positive emotional experience internally and externally.  Have fun.  Laugh.  Do office chair races, have games in the office.  Give people a sense of purpose.  Your employees should have a blast every single day!

4.  Take the risk.  We are all so risk averse in the industry, it stifles creativity and innovation.  Let it all hang out and innovate like nobody’s business.  Reward it, cultivate it, revel in it.  Don’t condemn ideas that didn’t work.  Go to the next one.  Edison found 999 ways that a light bulb didn’t work before he came up with one that did.

3.  Give employees as much time off as humanly possible during the workweek and for vacation.  Let it be one of your main incentives.

2.  Put some love in everything that you do.  It’s not that serious!  Spread love inside and outside of the company.

1.  Re-brand your company and fill it with spirit.  What does your brand say to your clients?  If you are like most contractors and engineers, it says, “trustworthy”, “reliable”, “stable”, “ethical” and probably a list of very nice words.  First of all, MOST contractor’s and engineer’s brands convey these things.  But these words are a bit stuffy.  Look at most commercials on television for a variety of products and services.  All of them are filled with positive emotions:  Coke:  Open Happiness.  Love:  It’s what makes a Suburu a Suburu.  Harley Davidson doesn’t sell motorcycles.  They sell freedom and independence.  We have really missed the boat in this industry.  The company who figures out how to brand themselves with fun, love, great times, humor, innovation, and creativity will slay the competition.

Owners are starved for this type of approach to building.  Owners will choose you because they like you, trust you, and respect you.  In that order.  You may be saying that it’s all about low price.  But there is a backlash of the low bid mentality.  The only ones making money are the lawyers.  And according to Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, those intangibles of spirit are not only a moral imperative, but they are much harder for your competition to replicate.

You may dismiss these ideas.  You may think they are ridiculous.  You may say that there is no way to do any of these in the construction business, especially on projects.  But I can tell you this:  The companies who figure these things out and actually implement these kinds of radical changes and find new ways of working  will dominate the industry.  It may not be the ideas listed above.  You will likely have to adapt and change them to fit company culture and industry standards.  But I can tell you that those who continue to limp along with ideas and concepts that are hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old, are doomed.

Building Brent Darnell International: Brent Shares His Decade of Experience

February 13, 2013

What were YOU doing 10 years ago at this time? It may be hard to recall or even harder to realize that 10 years have passed so quickly. For business owner and emotional intelligence expert, Brent Darnell, this past decade has been a life changing journey toward pursuing a dream, learning the raw truths of growing a business from scratch and gaining a deeper appreciation for balance in all aspects of life. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Brent Darnell International, Brent candidly answers 10 critical questions about this memorable journey:

Give us the back story. Where did you work and what did you do before 2002?

Brent Darnell: I graduated from Georgia Tech with a Mechanical Engineering Degree and worked in the construction business for 20 years before starting my own leadership development firm. I was a program manager for a leadership development program for Skanska and loved the work so much I decided to go out on my own.

What exactly is Brent Darnell International – what do you do?

BD: We teach people skills to technical people and train them like athletes. We use emotional intelligence as a foundation for all of this training along with physical peak performance. My wife, Andrea Robbins takes care of the physical side of the program.

How were you inspired to create this business – What was your “Aha” moment?

BD: I saw a huge need in the industry. Most of these technically excellent people had trouble with the “people” side of the business. This was the missing piece for them. Over time, we added the physical component because we saw the tie in between the emotional and the physical. Also, I noticed that many of these folks were overweight and under a lot of stress. That ultimately affects performance as well.

What was the best piece of advice you were given when you first started this business?

BD: Business is all about relationships.

Was there ever a moment in your childhood or early on that you knew you might do something like this for a living?

BD: It’s strange, but it seems like I’ve used all of my experience and combined it into what I do now. I quit construction and became a full time actor and writer for three years. Those experiences have served me well. We use lots of improvisation for learning, and my experience as an actor helps me with training and facilitation, and my writing experience has helped me with the books I have written.

(Want to try some improv with Brent? Click here for a special upcoming event!)

What has been one of your most rewarding moments?

BD: I don’t know how many times people have thanked me for their experience in these programs. One man told me that he is not only a better leader and a better superintendent, but he is a better husband and father. But being named one of the Top 25 Newsmakers by Engineering News Record for 2011 was the most rewarding moment.  They told us at the awards banquet that statistically, you are more likely to win an Oscar than a Top 25 Newsmaker Award.  I was so humbled by being a part of that.

(Click here to watch Brent’s acceptance speech for the ENR Newsmaker Award.)

What is a significant obstacle you had to overcome?

BD: My second year in business, the work totally dried up. I rested on my laurels after the first year and did nothing to create connections and relationships. It was a hard, but good lesson for me.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

BD: I think everything I did, including all of the mistakes, has helped to make the company what it is today. You have to go through those setbacks to learn—and without them—you don’t grow.

What is one piece of advice you wish you could tell all other new business owners?

BD: It’s all about relationships. And don’t give up on your dream!

Now with 10 years under your belt, where would you like to see Brent Darnell International in the next 10 years?

BD: My aim isn’t to grow. It’s to deliver great service to a limited number of clients. My wife, Andrea and I also want to keep an eye on our life balance. We don’t want to take on too much work. We want to continue to make a difference. We are looking at ways to deliver this work to more people through webinars, more books, and larger groups. Technology is allowing us to explore those options.

In just 10 years, Brent has built an impressive business while still maintaining the healthy work-life balance that he has helped so many others to reach. With this experience and wisdom, it’s safe to say that Brent has graduated from “new entrepreneur” to a seasoned business owner in his own right. Congratulations Brent! There are so many companies and individuals who also wish to offer you their sincere thanks for choosing the path you did and helping to change their lives! Here are just a few…

“I think we have saved a couple of valuable employees for the company, but more importantly their home and personal lives as well. Well done my friend.”
-Jon H.

“Thanks for helping me change my life.”
-Tom W.

“Thanks for helping me change my life.”
-Tom W.

Read more testimonials for Brent’s work here.

What Lies Ahead: How Leaders Can Seize Opportunities by Focusing on the Future

December 6, 2012

Future Shock:

futureThink about the future of construction.  What if you could build a 6 story building in 24 hours and assemble it with a minimally skilled work force?  How about a 15 story hotel in six days?  How about a 30 story hotel in just six days?  What if there was a 3D copier that copied large architectural elements without any form-work for use on buildings?  What if a brick paving machine eliminated the need for paving masons? What if industrial robots built walls and eliminated the need for brick masons?  What if you could construct a building that had net zero energy usage?  What if I told you that all of these “what ifs” are realities today?

Imagine a future where contracting has changed so drastically, that you don’t even recognize it as contracting.  Imagine a future where there are no retail buildings, no education buildings, no banks, no bookstores, no music stores, no malls, and no commercial offices.  Imagine buildings that don’t even look like conventional buildings.  Imagine mega-structures, sustainable communities, mile high buildings, and construction methods that can only be dreamed about today.  Imagine a completely different process of procuring, executing, and delivering work.  Fasten your seat belts.  It will be like nothing you have ever seen.

Ch ch ch ch changes . . .

Our society is transforming itself.  Much of what happens during the day is virtual.  This trend will continue and accelerate.  There are fewer face to face meetings.  There will a declining need for office space, retail space, movie houses, warehouses, schools, prisons (due to a decline in inmate populations), and dormitories.  Our virtual world will affect construction like never before.  People will do most of their business online from shopping to banking.  They will work from home and go to school via the internet.

And as those project opportunities decline, others will be growing. Some areas to look for are data centers and other support for these virtual worlds, package delivery and pickup locations, hospitals and healthcare facilities for our aging population, senior living facilities for the baby boomer retirees, and more entertainment venues including sports arenas, casinos, leisure destinations, and hotels. There will be a focus on adapting the home for virtual work and play.  There will be a focus on smaller, customized manufacturing facilities.  You will also be repairing our crumbling infrastructure and transportation services that will include more roads and bridges, more airport and rail work, more port work, and water and waste water projects from treatment to distribution.

Look for more prefabrication, modular construction, 3D copiers that can replicate large, architectural elements, machines that can build projects, paperless projects, instant buildings, and innovative construction methods that cut the time of construction by up to 90%.  Virtual simulators will be able to build the entire project virtually and you will be able to literally “walk” through the project before it has begun.  You will see more dimensions added to BIM so that technology will be able to build the entire building and identify all issues before anything happens on a site.

The estimating process will become so automated that everyone will be pricing the exact same thing. There will be more focus on energy efficiency, sustainable buildings and communities, integrated design, minimizing waste, and net zero use buildings that use no outside utilities.  There will be more collaboration and alliances among all stakeholders in the industry from owners to architects to designers to contractors to subcontractors to vendors and suppliers.  Big companies are already swallowing up smaller companies, and projects are getting bigger and bigger.  More and more of these large projects will be bid with strategic teams utilizing different sets of expertise along with local presence.

There will be more creative ways to finance projects, more creative delivery methods, more innovative construction methods, and more creative ways to make buildings last longer and be more efficient.

How can you solve these future issues?

It is a fact.  Things are changing and changing fast.  Contractors are all looking toward the future.  There is a lot of talk about “the new normal”.  What do you need to know to prepare for the future of contracting?  What areas do you need to focus on now to be competitive in this brave new contracting world?  How will you lead your company into this future?

Currently, the industry focuses on how to improve traditional construction processes and methodologies to try and squeeze out a few more dollars to the bottom line from the traditional bid, build, and deliver method.  You look at productivity.  You look at the workforce and do our best to attract and train more skilled workers, lamenting the fact that there are no more skilled tradesmen.  You look at technology.  But you are looking at all of these problems through the lens of traditional construction processes.  Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Contractors have a ton of knowledge and expertise, but their focus is on that narrow window of bidding, building, and turning over a project. Think for a moment about the entire construction process from the idea in the owner’s head until the end of the life of that project. We are in the information and knowledge age, but most contractors fail to capitalize on that knowledge and information that they possess.

The contractor of the future will address the entire construction process.  He will be extremely adaptable, knowledgeable, and tech savvy.  He will focus on education and the latest methods of construction and building maintenance.  He will be able to work virtually literally from anywhere in the world. He will understand the global nature of construction and be able to see that big picture.  He will embrace diversity and find ways to bring more women and minorities into the workforce.

The contractor of the future will learn creative ways to finance and launch projects, going beyond traditional bank loans and Public Private Partnerships.  He will learn to monetize this vast knowledge that contributes value to the entire construction process.  He will be a true master builder that knows every aspect of a project from start to finish.  The contractor that comes out on top will be the one that can add the most value to this process.  Pricing will become irrelevant.

Are you ready for all of these changes?  It will take strong leadership and a willingness to change.  All stakeholders in the construction process must take a look at these trends and educate themselves and their workers on how to capitalize on them. They must work on the skills they will need for the future including being an expert on creative financing, cutting edge technology, the latest construction methodologies, effective and seamless facilities maintenance, world class education, and relationships, alliances and collaboration.

Construction leaders who serve on AGC Georgia’s Board of Directors are working together to answer some of these questions, study new trends and contemplate a different future. Efforts to better understand the contractor of the future are critical to ensure AGC Georgia stays relevant to the changing needs of its membership and a changing construction landscape. Equally important are the implications of these changes for your company. Are you looking toward the future?


This article was written by Brent Darnell and published as a feature article in Georgia Construction Today, Fourth Quarter 2012. For more information about this publication or the Georgia AGC, please click here. For more information about Brent Darnell, owner of Brent Darnell International, visit: http://www.brentdarnell.com.

Are You an Outlier? Celebrate the Process of Success

May 1, 2012

I have just finished a decade of being in business for myself.  I celebrate that accomplishment with gusto and gratitude.  I am blessed beyond the pale being able to do what I love to do, help others reach their highest potential, help to transform the construction industry, and get paid for all of that!  Life is good.

After reading the book, Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell, I was wondering if, after I hit the ten year mark, that things would start to take off.  And they have.  You see, Mr. Gladwell’s book focuses on the magic number of 10,000 hours.  Once you do something for 10,000 hours, you become an expert.  You become successful.  The world starts to see your worth.  The world is filled with stories of “overnight” successes who, when interviewed, tell their audience that they have been slogging away at their craft for, you guessed it, 10 years.  The Beatles played clubs in Germany for 10 hours a day for quite a long time.  It is in those clubs that they developed themselves as musicians and as a group.  I imagine when they started they were pretty awful.  Nobody starts out as an expert.

So when it feels like you are just miring down in the muck of figuring out the best way to do things, celebrate that.  Celebrate the fact that your are honing your craft.  Celebrate the disasters and the failures.  They are what make you successful.  I have made many mistakes along the way and continue to make them.  But I don’t freak out about them nearly as much any more.  I use them to learn.  I celebrate them more.  And after 10 years, some pretty amazing things are happening.  I was just voted one of the Top 25 Newsmakers for 2011 by Engineering News Record, a national magazine for the construction industry.  People are starting to call me now.  It was always referral based, but I had to push that much more.  Now people are calling me to speak, to teach, to help with them their employees.  It’s very rewarding.  But I don’t think I  would be at this point if I had not failed and had problems.

So the next time you have a rough time, celebrate it and know that it is just helping you to be successful.

The Experience Economy: Part 2

April 17, 2012

I talked last time about the experience economy or creating a positive emotional experience instead of a transaction.  This is vital for your business’s success.  What experience are you creating?  How do people feel when they walk into your office?  First impressions are vital.  Of course, you can create those first impressions face-to-face, but many folks’ first impression of you and the company is your outgoing voice mail.  Have everyone get a partner and call each other’s voice mail and tell them what their first impression is.  I have called several voice mails, and sometimes, it’s just a number.  I don’t even know the company or the person I am trying to reach.  It’s uncomfortable.  Instruct everyone to have a warm, genuine, outgoing message that conveys connection.  Have them stand up and smile when they are saying it.  Many of the outgoing messages I hear are monotone and boring.  Most don’t even say their name or the company name.  Ask yourself, “What would they want to hear in order to make them want to do business with us?”  Is it a fun place to be and work?  Or is it boring and serious?  You may want to have some guidelines on this so it is fairly consistent.

I would recommend that everyone go through the 12 steps to great relationships (previous blogs) so that you have some tools to use to truly work toward creating a positive emotional experience.  And everyone needs to be involved in this process.  One or two people can create a negative impression that may be hard to overcome.

Of course, you must ask yourself, how do we act when our competition is doing this as well?  The answer is take it to the next level.  What is the next level?  What comes after creating a positive emotional experience?  The answer is transformation.  Can you offer clients a transformational experience, one that actually makes their life better at work or at home?  How do you do this?  Offer classes for them.  Buy them inspirational books and send them inspirational blogs, photos, videos, and articles.  Offer to help them to overcome whatever it is that is keeping them up nights.

When you do this, your competition isn’t even up for consideration and you will have more business than you need.

The Experience Economy: What your business NEEDS to know!

April 10, 2012


I just read a great book called The Experience Economy:  Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage by Pine and Gilmore.  It’s a great book and covers a subject that we must know and embrace.  We have moved from and agriculture economy to an industrial economy to a service economy.  And now we are moving into an experience economy.  It is no longer enough to provide a service, even great service.  There are many companies who can provide great service.  And when there is no other differentiator, these services become commoditized and companies compete on price alone.  But the companies who provide a positive emotional experience instead of transaction of goods or services will make their competition irrelevant.

Think about Disney for a moment.  Is it the cheapest place to go?  Is the easiest park to experience?  No.  But people flock there generation after generation to experience all that is Disney.  Why is that?  Because they have taken this concept to a very high level.  There are no employees.  They are cast members.  There are no customers.  They are guests.  Everything about Disney is creating a wonderful emotional experience.  And now neuroscience has verified that our purchasing decisions are based more on memory and emotion than on price or any other cognitive process.

So how can companies start embracing this concept?  It starts with first impressions.  What emotional impression is created when people first walk into your office?  Let me tell you about two experiences I had:

Experience #1:  Going to a meeting at a contractor’s office a few years back, I was not greeted warmly.  The people didn’t smile.  The environment was stilted and stuffy.  There was a deafening quiet.  When I walked down the hallway, no one said anything to me.  The walls had  a few posters and some wall hangings of company articles employee photos, and projects, but it didn’t seem warm and personal.  I was not introduced or greeted.  People were very busy working, but had very little time for me.  There was no eye contact.  I was offered coffee.  They motioned for me to go into the kitchen where some coffee had obviously been on the burner for quite some time.  The person handed me a Styrofoam cup and indicated the canisters of powdered creamer and sugar.  The coffee was pretty awful.  Then, they escorted me to the meeting room without any conversation.  The room was cold and stark.  It felt like I was in a free clinic.  It was gray and dismal.  Needless to say, I didn’t leave with a great feeling.

Experience #2:  Shortly after that meeting, I went to a meeting at a contractor’s office in Finland.  Keep in mind that the Finns are not the warmest of people.  But I was warmly greeted.  The reception area was beautifully appointed with art on the walls and beautiful, comfortable furniture.  There were coffee table books about the company as well as colorful industry magazines. There was some very nice music playing.  I waited a short time and was greeted warmly again and taken to a beautiful meeting room that was well lit and warm and friendly.  They told me that the lights were full spectrum lights, which feels more like natural sunlight.  Now the Finns do this because their winters are so dark.  But why don’t we do this on interior rooms with no windows?  It creates a totally different feeling.

The furniture was comfortable.  I was brought coffee on a silver tray with real half and half in a silver pitcher and sugar in a silver sugar bowl.  They also had a tray of lovely pastries that were great to look at and very tasty.  They started with this coffee ritual (as most of the Nordic countries do) and talked about personal things first.  How was your trip? How do you like Helsinki?  It was a totally different experience.

What experience are you creating?