What of these survival tactics used by movie theaters could apply to strengthening your business strategy?


When 2020 began, the future of movie theaters looked bright. Seemingly every major Hollywood studio was pursuing its own cinematic universe, and every big-budget film was seeking a sequel. Viewers were promised a slew of surefire hits, including a new Christopher Nolan thriller, Daniel Craig’s last outing as James Bond, and the next era of Marvel movies. “There’s no way one can say theatrical is dead,” Deadline observed of the year to come.

Of course, 2020 put that declaration to the test. The COVID-19 pandemic forced indoor-viewing suspensions, Hollywood’s biggest studios delayed their most anticipated titles, and theatrical windows shrank—or disappeared altogether—to accommodate the boom in streaming services. After earning a record $42.3 billion in 2019, the global box office tumbled a whopping 72 percent last year.

Now, as vaccination rates climb and film-release dates hold firm (for the moment), the industry appears ready to heal. Theaters have been slowly reopening across the country—rehiring employees, introducing new cleaning standards, and installing top-of-the-line ventilation systems according to industry-wide guidelines. Major chains such as Cineworld, the U.K.-based owner of Regal Cinemas, have renegotiated how long films will be shown in theaters before going online, and Godzilla vs. Kong, the CGI-drenched monster mash, drew $48.5 million at the box office its first week. Seeing sold-out showings, even at limited capacity, is a “promising sign,” Seth Parsley, a general manager of a UEC Theatre in the South, told me over email. Milt Moritz, the president of the National Association of Theatre Owners of California and Nevada, agreed: “This is the light at the end of the tunnel we were looking forward to for well over a year.”https://867e0decd97e823d02b2a528e06fcc41.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Still, one film’s success isn’t proof of an entire industry’s resurgence. To survive beyond the pandemic, theaters must persuade moviegoers not just to come back, but to come back more frequently than they did—to start thinking of their local cinema as akin to their favorite coffee shop. Because a return to pre-pandemic habits isn’t enough, industry executives told me they’ve been spending this past year rethinking the role of theaters in the first place. “What we did during our downtime is … spend our energy on things that are going to move us forward and improve the experience of coming to the cinema,” Tim League, the founder of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, a Texas-based chain, told me. Moviegoing, simply put, is hoping to meet your post-pandemic needs. Here’s what viewers can expect:


You probably noticed that major cineplexes were moving in a digital direction long before the pandemic. Paperless ticketing and online seat reservations were becoming common, but the shutdown provided the opportunity to fine-tune such services. Mark Zoradi, the CEO of the global theater chain Cinemark, told me that launching “Snacks in a Tap,” a program that allows moviegoers to order concessions online, was one of the company’s priorities in 2020. Alamo Drafthouse did the same, adding to its app the feature to order food in advance. Making every step of the theatergoing experience as contactless as possible has made it even easier to give customers what they’re ultimately looking for these days: “that sparkling-clean environment,” Zoradi said.


Don’t expect virtual screenings to continue outside of smaller indie venues. But do expect the private auditorium rentals that theaters began offering during the pandemic to stick around. They’ve been lucrative: AMC hosted more than 150,000 such showings in 2020, as has Cinemark through February of this year, and half of Alamo Drafthouse’s revenue during the height of the pandemic came from such a program. “It’s become very, very, very popular,” Moritz said. “People want to be secure about who’s at the theater.”

And most theaters, he added, will maintain staggered showtimes to allow for cleaning between screenings and to keep guests comfortable—no more shoving your way past departing moviegoers to get to your seat, at least for the time being. Indeed, major chains, encouraged by the success of private screenings, are focused on offering, as Zoradi put it, “enhanced” experiences at affordable prices: more reclining chairs, more food and beverage options on the menu, and the ability to have concessions delivered straight to your seat.

League told me that the Alamo, already geared toward cinephiles with its strict moviegoing etiquette and celebrity events (Q&As with a cast, for instance, or director introductions to film screenings), has also been building out the company’s video-on-demand feature, which provides content such as director commentary that can be accessed after showings on the Alamo app or at home. “There is pressure to make sure the experience is awesome every time,” he said. “I think every exhibitor feels that.” So do theater employees, who must put in extra effort on the ground to produce that coziness for every attendee. “It’s nothing that I’m not used to, as I am an Avengers: Endgame survivor,” Parsley told me of the extra time he’s spent cleaning theaters between every screening. “But it has made for some very long days.”


It might seem obvious, but theaters depend on frequent moviegoers, defined as those who see a movie at least once a month. In the U.S. and Canada in 2019, they represented about 11 percent of the population, yet accounted for 47 percent of all tickets sold. Thus, chains with loyalty programs—for instance, AMC Stubs or Cinemark Movie Club—that offer rewards for regular moviegoers will “reignite,” Zoradi said. “Doing this subscription program was very important, and we’ve stepped up our digital and social-marketing efforts … We think of ourselves not as a theater exhibitor owner, [but] as a very modern retailer, like a Target or a Starbucks.”

To that end, executives want to change the way you think about theaters; they want frequent moviegoing to be the norm, not the habit of a dedicated minority. In the post-pandemic era, they see Hollywood’s backlog of blockbusters and audiences’ pent-up need to leave home as unique advantages. Therefore they consider other social settings, not streaming services, as their primary business rivals going forward. “I think we’re an out-of-home experience competing with bars and restaurants and nightclubs,” League said. “Folks who watch a lot of streaming also go out to theaters a lot, and I feel comfortable that that’s not going to be the end of cinema.” AMC’s CEO, Adam Aron, expressed a similar sentiment during an earnings call in February: “I think people are overstating that streaming is somehow going to cause screen closures … We’re not quite as desperate as we were in June of 2020.” And yet …


No theater escaped the pandemic unscathed. The Alamo furloughed more than 5,000 employees and declared bankruptcy to refinance. AMC permanently closed 60 theaters. Cineworld reported a loss of more than $2 billion in 2020; its sites in the U.S. have begun reopening just this month. Cinemark, even with its conservative financial approach, still had to reduce salaries across the board. And though Moritz said he felt “total euphoria” when we spoke after the release of Godzilla vs. Kong, the following week brought news of the closing of ArcLight and Pacific theaters, a historic Los Angeles–based chain. “It is a sad day for Hollywood,” Moritz wrote.

Reopening doesn’t happen with a simple flip of a switch; it requires starting almost from scratch and contending with fresh, pandemic-induced challenges. It’s little wonder, then, that employees working at reopened venues feel conflicted about the industry’s future. Some have noticed positive changes: Connor, an employee working at an AMC in Colorado who asked to have his last name withheld to protect his job, told me that “things feel mostly normal-adjacent,” with customers being more tolerant of shortcomings. “‘No cash, card only’ is met with understanding instead of anger,” he wrote. “‘Sorry, we don’t have fresh produce right now because of supply-chain issues’ is met with acceptance.”

Parsley, the UEC employee, told me that any issues he encountered with patrons paled in comparison to the frustrations—staff layoffs and eliminated weekday showings—caused by release delays and slashed theatrical windows. “I can confidently say that at my theater, the decline in business can be attributed to the lack of product,” he said, “and not the fear of COVID.” Movie theaters, after all, will always be beholden to the decisions of movie studios.

Turning the corner in the pandemic doesn’t guarantee stability for theaters. Offering luxurious experiences at affordable prices doesn’t mean audiences will show up in droves every week. And knowing that the worst has passed at the box office doesn’t erase uncertainty about its prospects. Moritz told me he could see 2021 being a “record year” if capacity limits end before the spate of summer blockbusters arrive. League balked at that calculation when I told him, saying the end of the year would be his earliest guess for a healthy industry. Zoradi hesitated before offering his own prediction. “I would put it a little differently,” he mused. “I would say we’re in a ‘transitionary’ year … In 2022, we’ll figure out what the new ‘normal’ is.”

My Wish for you is Peace

We’ve all heard the saying, “ten years from now what will really matter”, or “what do you want them to say about you when you are dead?”  The point of these is that often our measuring stick isn’t measuring the right thing.  When those conversations come up, it typically is stemming from a situation where we are struggling because our angst is about achieving something that we may not need to be focusing on; and if we step back and look at the bigger picture, we see that.  

I had a conversation with a group of friends recently and we discussed how we defined success. The world would have us think it is money, or things, or power.  And while those things are fun and nice to have, they are fleeting.  Oftentimes they are dependent upon others or they are dependent upon circumstances.  We all know that person who says, “I’ll be happy when….” One sage friend in the group said success is coming closest to that which you are called to do.  I like that.  If we are called to serve people, success will come from us doing that.  If we are called to lead people, success will come from doing that.  If we are called to support a cause or a mission, success will come from our efforts and we will find a way.  Now, I am all about goals.  And I don’t think we can live a meaningful life without them—and goals drive me.  I just know that when the goal is to have peace and not to meet someone else’s version of success or let someone else determine the measuring stick I use, I can find success (and peace) so much more easily. 

 I encourage you to think about that thing that is bigger than yourself.  What scares you, but also excites you to think about making it happen, or being part of it?  If there is an “I can serve my purpose when…” think about how you can serve your purpose now in some small way, and you will find that it will grow and become bigger instead of waiting until the circumstances are perfect, because they never will be.  

What small thing can you do now to create the reality you desire?  Is there someone with whom you can partner to create that reality? How are you measuring your success?  Are you being intentional to those metrics?  My wish for you is peace and finding your true measure of success will help you achieve it.  

Are you always learning? Need a place to continue your life-long learning habit? Reach out: firecrackerleadership.com.


Many people mistakenly believe that the ability to learn is a matter of intelligence. For them, learning is an immutable trait like eye color, simply luck of the genetic draw. People are born learners, or they’re not, the thinking goes. So why bother getting better at it?

And that’s why many people tend to approach the topic of learning without much focus. They don’t think much about how they will develop an area of mastery. They use phrases like “practice makes perfect” without really considering the learning strategy at play. It’s a remarkably ill-defined expression, after all. Does practice mean repeating the same skill over and over again? Does practice require feedback? Should practice be hard? Or should it be fun?

A growing body of research is making it clear that learners are made, not born. Through the deliberate use of practice and dedicated strategies to improve our ability to learn, we can all develop expertise faster and more effectively. In short, we can all get better at getting better.

Here’s one example of a study that shows how learning strategies can be more important than raw smarts when it comes to gaining expertise. Marcel Veenman has found that people who closely track their thinking will outscore others who have sky-high IQ levels when it comes to learning something new. His research suggests that in terms of developing mastery, focusing on how we understand is some 15 percentage points more important than innate intelligence.

Here are three practical ways to build your learning skills, based on research.

Organize your goals
Effective learning often boils down to a type of project management. In order to develop an area of expertise, we first have to set achievable goals about what we want to learn. Then we have to develop strategies to help us reach those goals.

A targeted approach to learning helps us cope with all the nagging feelings associated with gaining expertise: Am I good enough? Will I fail? What if I’m wrong? Isn’t there something else that I’d rather be doing?

While some self-carping is normal, Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura says these sorts of negative emotions can quickly rob us of our ability to learn something new. Plus, we’re more committed if we develop a plan with clear objectives. The research is overwhelming on this point. Studies consistently show that people with clear goals outperform people with vague aspirations like “do a good job.” By setting targets, people can manage their feelings more easily and achieve progress with their learning.

Think about thinking
Metacognition is crucial to the talent of learning. Psychologists define metacognition as “thinking about thinking,” and broadly speaking, metacognition is about being more inspective about how you know what you know. It’s a matter of asking ourselves questions like: Do I really get this idea? Could I explain it to a friend? What are my goals? Do I need more background knowledge? Or do I need more practice?

Metacognition comes easily to many trained experts. When a specialist works through an issue, they’ll often think a lot about how the problem is framed. They’ll often have a good sense of whether or not their answer seems reasonable.

The key, it turns out, is not to leave this sort of “thinking about thinking” to the experts. When it comes to learning, one of the biggest issues is that people don’t engage in metacognition enough. They don’t stop to ask themselves if they really get a skill or concept.

The issue, then, is not that something goes in one ear and out the other. The issue is that individuals don’t dwell on the dwelling. They don’t push themselves to really think about their thinking.

Reflect on your learning
There is something of a contradiction in learning. It turns out that we need to let go of our learning in order to understand our learning. For example, when we step away from a problem, we often learn more about a problem. Get into a discussion with a colleague, for instance, and often your best arguments arrive while you’re washing the dishes later. Read a software manual and a good amount of your comprehension can come after you shut the pages.

In short, learning benefits from reflection. This type of reflection requires a moment of calm. Maybe we’re quietly writing an essay in a corner — or talking to ourselves as we’re in the shower. But it usually takes a bit of cognitive quiet, a moment of silent introspection, for us to engage in any sort of focused deliberation.

Sleep is a fascinating example of this idea. It’s possible that we tidy up our knowledge while we’re napping or sleeping deeply. One recent study shows a good evening of shut-eye can reduce practice time by 50%.

The idea of cognitive quiet also helps explain why it’s so difficult to gain skills when we’re stressed or angry or lonely. When feelings surge through our brain, we can’t deliberate and reflect. Sure, in some sort of dramatic, high-stakes situations, we might be able to learn something basic like remember a phone number. But for us to gain any sort of understanding, there needs to be some state of mental ease.

The good news from all of this — for individuals and for companies looking to help their employees be their best — is that learning is a learned behavior. Being a quick study doesn’t mean you’re the smartest person in the room. It’s that you’ve learned how to learn. By deliberately organizing your learning goals, thinking about your thinking, and reflecting on your learning at opportune times, you can become a better study, too.

Wharton Business Brief states vaccines could have major positive economic impact. I have my shots. Are you getting yours?

The pace of the economic recovery in the U.S. in 2021 hinges on the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations, according to a brief by the Penn Wharton Budget Model. It projects that doubling the number of vaccine doses administered daily to 3 million would create more than 2 million jobs and boost real GDP by about 1% over the summer of 2021, with smaller effects later in the year. Since the first vaccine dose was administered on December 14, around 50 million Americans have been at least partly vaccinated, it estimated.

“Unlike earlier this year, where economic activity collapsed everywhere, all at once, regardless of whether there were a significant number of cases in a place, economic activity now is much more closely linked to how bad pandemic conditions are locally,” Alex Arnon, a senior analyst at the Penn Wharton Budget Model, said on the Wharton Business Daily radio show on SiriusXM. (Listen to the podcast above.)

While the vaccine is “an incredible public health boon and great for people personally,” it isn’t a direct form of economic stimulus, Arnon said. He noted that until now, economic activity was being held back by “the very rational fear” that people have of getting infected, but the vaccines will significantly reduce that fear.

At the current pace of around 1.5 million doses per day, PWBM said it expects economic recovery “to continue but proceed gradually through the middle of year,” with employment rising to nearly 152 million in July and four-quarter real GDP growth of around 5% in the third quarter. Averaging over the full year of 2021, PWBM projected that raising the rate of daily vaccinations to 3 million or more would increase employment by nearly 1 million and real GDP growth by about a third of a percentage point.

The effects on the labor market that PWBM projected are largest in the summer, “which is when how quickly you’re able to vaccinate people makes the biggest difference,” said Arnon. At 2 million vaccinations a day, say, by the end of the year, most of the people who want it would have been vaccinated, he noted.

“No matter what, we’re looking at a substantial improvement relative to where we were last year, and there’s just not going to be as much scope for the virus to spread going forward.”–Alex Arnon

The biggest effects on employment would be seen in the middle and third quarters of the year. “We can be looking at a difference of a couple of million jobs in July and August, and that will reflect the extent to which people are comfortable going back to a lot of the economic activities that we have not been able to do recently,” Arnon said.

Interrupting the Risk Response Dynamic

In its brief, PWBM created a model that weighs the epidemiological and economic implications of maintaining, increasing, or falling from the current pace of daily vaccinations. The model is an extended version of one they describe in a forthcoming contribution to the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, authored by Arnon, John Ricco, who is also a senior analyst at PWBM, and Kent Smetters, PWBM’s faculty director, who is also a professor of business economics and public policy at Wharton.

The model features a framework that factors in changes in social and economic behavior in response to the severity of the pandemic. Driving those behavioral responses are people’s perceptions of the risk of infection, which depend on the reported number of cases in one’s community, the PWBM brief noted.

“High or rising cases induce increased social distancing, which is economically costly but curbs growth in infections,” the brief explained. “The reverse occurs when cases fall and social distancing is relaxed, leading to a rise in both economic activity and the spread of infection. Vaccination interrupts this risk response dynamic.” As more and more people get vaccinated, “the epidemiological risk associated with relaxing social distancing diminishes, allowing a wide range of social and economic activity to safely resume.”

By the end of the 2021, about 80% of the population will have immunity to COVID-19, either from vaccination or from having been previously infected, according to PWBM projections. Vaccinations alone would have covered between 50% and 60% of the population in that time frame, said Arnon. “So no matter what, we’re looking at a substantial improvement relative to where we were last year, and there’s just not going to be as much scope for the virus to spread going forward, even in the relatively pessimistic scenarios.”

In the meantime, the emergence of more transmissible variants of the virus means that cases are likely to rise later this year, regardless of the pace of vaccination, the brief warned. Here again, doubling the pace of vaccinations to 3 million per day would prevent a total of about 2 million cases this year, PWBM estimated.

In estimating the behavioral response to infection risk, PWBM developed three daily, county-level measures of social and economic behavior. They cover the frequency of “close physical proximity” between different individuals outside the home and proxies for county-level employment and GDP. It tracked those behavioral responses using more than 20 indicators drawn from sources including mobile device location data, payroll service providers, web search activity, and debit card transactions.

Projecting the Pandemic’s Path

How the pandemic plays out during the rest of the year depends on “several highly uncertain policy, behavioral, and biological outcomes,” and the pace of vaccinations. However, PWBM identified four key factors. They are social distancing behaviors, where it projected “substantial relaxations” over the rest of the year; seasonality in viral transmission, which declines in spring and summer and rises in fall and winter; the arrival and dominance of the “more transmissible” B.1.1.7 variant (or the so-called U.K. variant); and herd immunity effects. “As the share of the population with immunity rises and the share that remain susceptible to infection falls, viral transmission becomes less likely because there are fewer possible hosts,” the brief noted.

“The vaccine is truly incredible…. It’s the best kind of stimulus we could want.”–Alex Arnon

According to Arnon, by the end of the year, “basically all new infections will be from one of the newer and more transmissible variants.” In the intervening period he pictured “a race [between] how many vaccinations we can deliver, versus how quickly will the new variants spread.”

“Later in the year, if these new variants end up spreading the way that they seem to be on their way to doing, there’s not much we can do to prevent some resurgence in cases,” Arnon continued. That situation would arise because “even in the best case, a lot of people who are not vaccinated, and have not been infected before, will still be potentially susceptible to getting sick.”

PWBM considered five possible paths for the pace of vaccinations over the coming year: a moderate decline to 1 million daily; remaining at 1.5 million; a moderate increase to 2 million; a large increase to 3 million; and a very large increase to 4 million. It assumed that the vaccines would be available nationally in sufficient quantities by mid-March. Arnon noted that there are “very encouraging developments in terms of the supply” of vaccines. Administering up to 4 million shots a day “now seems plausible,” he said.

Herd immunity is not immediately in sight. “The closer you get to herd immunity, the easier it is to keep things under control,” said Arnon. After adjusting for people who will not get vaccinated this year, and the fact that a vaccine for children is not currently available, “we probably will not be able to get to full herd immunity — a really secure state — until the very end of the year after we’ve experienced a second wave,” he predicted.

Comfort with Vaccinations

Much of that is contingent on people feeling comfortable in getting vaccinated. “One factor that we don’t deal with explicitly [is that] people have to believe in the vaccine,” he said. “Even though there is a fair amount of skepticism right now, we think that once people see it, that they are going to realize what a wonderful thing it actually is.”

PWBM expects “very rapid growth” in the economy in the second and third quarters of this year. “No matter what, we’re headed towards a substantial recovery, but as we show, just exactly how sharp that recovery looks is going to depend on how quickly we can ramp up the vaccination delivery.”

The biggest takeaway from the PWBM brief? “Get shots in arms as quickly as possible,” said Arnon. “If you can get the vaccine, you should get it. It’s not just for your personal health and safety. It’s also for public health and the economy in general. Hopefully we can get to a place pretty soon where we can restore some degree of economic normalcy. The vaccine is truly incredible. There is rarely such a pure positive benefit in economics. It’s the best kind of stimulus we could want.”

How much time are you spending reflecting on the past so you can prepare for the future? I lead groups that do just that. Firecrackerleadership.com


The recent catastrophic event in Texas cut a wide swath of devastation, leaving  4.4 million people without electrical power — including heat and running water. Once incredibly proud to be about 90% energy-independent, a natural phenomenon no one could predict brought the Lone Star state to its knees. Rendering millions of people displaced and helpless, this tragedy left people wondering where they will sleep, when they will eat and ultimately — how could this happen?

It’s horrible that it takes a tragedy to provoke change, but sometimes it is the only motivator. For the people of Texas and all people everywhere, transcending adversity relies on the ability to see the positive potential in a situation, even in times of extreme hardship. 

Looking backward for guidance going forward

Looking back, the formation of many innovative companies began with change. The founders of Home Depot, the first big-box home improvement store, were fired from their local hardware store. One year later, the first two Home Depot stores opened in Atlanta, Ga. Groupon, a website that promotes companies by offering deals on their products and services to consumers, developed right in the middle of the 2008 recession. This company’s aim was two-fold: promote struggling companies’ products and ease the public’s financial burden with discounts. 

The point? Adversity inevitably brings change, and this trend of change spurring innovation is constantly recurring. Therefore, entrepreneurs and businesses should always think of how to turn today’s adversity into tomorrow’s bright star. 

Knowing positive change is on the horizon was little comfort for people in Texas. It was also a hard pill to swallow for businesses suffering the effects of a yearlong pandemic. Companies of all sizes and all realms should take a hard look at what happened in both situations. In doing so, one truth keeps sounding loud and clear: Complacency in times of prosperity is a recipe for disaster. 

It’s no secret; the most successful businesses never let their guard down. Even in the best of times, they never stop thinking forward, trying to anticipate the next patch of rough water. Therefore, when the unexpected hits, it’s not so shocking because their preparedness level keeps them functioning at top levels, not merely treading turbulent waters trying to survive. Companies at this level have the resources and the ability to reach out and help those struggling. And this ability to pay it forward is a real blessing and lifesaver for those in dire need.

Building a disaster-resistant company: Be ahead of the curve

So, how does a company adopt this way of functioning? It all comes down to infrastructure. First of all, a great leader must have passion for their purpose, and they must communicate this purpose with a joint mission and a clear vision on how to achieve the company goals. You will not be capable of building a rock-solid team without a rock-solid foundation.

One common misconception in business is that the leader is the most important person on the team. The leader is essential in the process of building the team. But after this accomplishment, the ultimate victory for any leader should be a company that can run like a well-oiled machine without their presence. The most efficient companies have made everyone replaceable. No one should have such a specialized function that productivity sufferers if that person is gone. 

At the start of the pandemic, millions of businesses were scrambling to implement and learn the process of remote work. And yet, there were some companies out there that had been doing it for years. As you can guess, these companies fared the darkest moments of the pandemic much better than others because they did not have to introduce and learn a new way of working at the moment or, on the fly, as they say. 

Companies with remote components merely flinched when everyone else was wincing and on the verge of a meltdown. One can attribute this calm composure to a high level of preparedness. Did these businesses predict the pandemic and the necessity for working remotely? No, but their willingness to try something different at some point led to a new way of doing things that worked for them. Having multiple paths to achieve your purpose instead of just one will always be a plus when the unexpected arrives.

For most companies ahead of the “pandemic curve,” going remote was a fiscal decision several years ago. The businesses that took a hard look at their priorities and placed luxurious corporate office space far down the list also seemed to have another trend. Many of these businesses spent their funds on acquiring quality employees and state-of-the-art technology because these elements are the future’s driving forces.

Learning from adversity

What businesses should learn from tragic times such as the pandemic and the Texas energy crisis is to be better prepared. This preparedness level comes from a strong leader who communicates a clear mission and vision of getting there. This leader must also build a phenomenal forward-thinking team that works toward the common goal. And maybe most importantly, this team and their leader should never let their guard down during prosperous times. Instead, they must always anticipate adversity, so they can avert it without much disruption when it arrives. 

What’s done is done. In Texas, the people must learn from the tragedy so it never happens again. It is the same with post-pandemic businesses. The goal should always be to see adversity as a positive forerunner of change and to adapt accordingly. 

We’ve all learned a lesson or two, no matter what our level of preparedness. We must adjust to the changes and get ahead of the curve by not settling-in with new habits. We must always learn from the past so we can keep thinking forward. With this mindset, the next potential disaster will not be so crippling.

My Wednesday Wish for peace is for you to know where you are going.

I subscribe to the concept that you cannot run away from anything very successfully, but you can run
toward something if you know what it is or what it looks like. I often tell my clients that they need to
define what success is so they can know when they have arrived, and if they don’t define it, how do they
know if they are going in the right direction?
Let’s take a simple example: If I tell you to clear your mind of all thoughts, what do you do? You try, but
I’m going to bet that all of a sudden you start thinking about all the things you need to do, all the things
that are bothering you or all the things you really don’t want to think about but start to fill that space. If
I tell you to focus on your breathing, or the warmth of the coffee cup in your hand, you move your mind
to that thing. You focus on that thing. You feel the breath, you feel the pace of the breath, you feel
your body moving because of the breath, but you think about the breath. You are focused and you
AREN’T thinking about the to do list, the person you need to meet with or the project your child has to
do for school. You are focusing on something. We can’t run from something; we have to run toward
When I was just divorced I could easily (and did at times) say what I didn’t want in my next relationship.
I didn’t want to fight; didn’t want this or that. But I finally sat down and journaled what I DID want. I
wanted a partner who was kind and funny and safe and shared my values. (It was gooier than that, but
you get the idea). After I met my husband, I was digging through old journals. I read that entry and was
amazed at how I had found exactly what I had described. Because knowing what I was looking for made
the “search” so much more possible. And if I had run across someone who didn’t fit the bill, I could
easily move on because I knew what I wanted. Whether I knew at the time what I was doing, or realized
the value of it afterward, I don’t know.
How do you communicate what you want to yourself instead of what you don’t want? You don’t want
to be overweight: How about moving toward eating and exercising for health and not focusing on what
you cannot eat. You don’t want to be in debt-how about identifying what that money will buy in the
future instead of what you cannot have today. You don’t like the clients you are attracting- how about
thinking about who those clients you want are, what drives them and where you find them and how you
provide what they want. Knowing where you are going makes prioritizing so much easier. You can say
no to anything that isn’t moving you toward your yes.

My wish for you is peace. I know you can move toward it if you define what it looks like for you.

As CEO do you own these?


I often ask entrepreneur CEOs the following question: What’s your responsibility as the person in charge of your business?

This is often met with a blank stare. Other times I get a vague response, something like, “Well, I do a lot of things. I guess my job is to keep the company or project moving forward.”

These aren’t useful answers. It’s no wonder many CEOs just ricochet between crises without any real thought about how to proactively drive the company forward.

Before you assemble your team, you must be absolutely clear on what your role and day-to-day responsibilities will be leading the company. Knowing what to focus on will also help ensure you’re not spending your time in other people’s business and getting in the way of them doing their jobs.

Following are some of the most important parts of your day-to-day CEO job description:

The CEO is responsible for the vision and direction of the company

This seems straightforward enough, but it’s more complicated than it sounds. You have to look at the horizon and know where you want to take your company. This kind of vision differs from a goal on your mission statement; your vision is a measurable three-, five- or ten-year view of where you want to be.

I recommend starting with the sales and profits you hope to achieve, then work­ing backward to see what it will take to make it happen. You’ll need clear drivers, processes, and accountability to manage your company’s progress toward your vision. In short, having a vision is worthless unless you can engineer the specifics to achieve it.

The CEO has the ultimate responsibility for cash.

You may think watching the cash is the CFO, accountant, or bookkeeper’s job, but no.

For any company, cash and access to cash is its lifeblood, the air it breathes. If you run out of cash, you’re done. You’d be surprised how quickly a fast-growing company with high profit margins can run short of cash. You may have to use up cash to add to your working capital, build up inventory, or finance your accounts receivable. Managing the monetary ebb and flow is ultimately the CEO’s responsibility because it’s so vital to the health and survival of your business.

The CEO must ensure that the right people are in the right jobs at the right time.

CEOs may be sentimentally attached to longtime employees who’ve been there from the beginning. They refuse to let them go or move them aside, even if they’re no longer benefi­cial to the company.

As the business grows, you’ll need to make changes. The people who got you to one threshold may not be the people you need to take you to the next level. The CEO, hard-hearted though it may seem, must be dispassionate about hiring and fir­ing. If you can only afford two salespeople, they need to be the two best salespeople you can find. Some people operate better in startups than in more mature businesses. Recognize your people’s strengths and weaknesses, and don’t wait too long to bring in new talent. The wrong employees will bring you down.

The CEO is responsible for key relationships.

The CEO must “own” the key relationships in the company, such as those with bank­ers, key vendors, the biggest customers, and shareholders. Any outsider with the power to alter the future of your company — by ordering, selling, lending, etc. — needs to have access to you (and you to them). You want them to feel comfortable calling you up at any hour of the day or night. Too often, business owners hand over these relationships to high-level employees. But what happens if those employees leave and take the accounts with them? You cannot — and should not — keep control over every contact. But know who the key ones are and keep them close.

The CEO must have processes in place to continue learning.

You did your market research before you started your company, right? Back then, you had nothing on the line. But now that your life is tied up in your enterprise, be diligent about keeping up with what’s going on in your industry, with your competitors, and with your customers.

Business changes faster than ever these days, and the annals of recent corporate history are littered with the bones of com­panies that didn’t evolve or adapt fast enough to survive the rapidly shifting environment. Go to conferences, talk to consul­tants, and get to know your rivals. Use tools like Google Alerts and LinkedIn to help you keep track of what’s happening in your field and outside it. Read trade blogs and ezines. Look to learn — as well as sell — when you’re out in the field, whether it’s one-on-one or at a convention with thousands of attendees or meeting customers at a small event. Hire a business coach and put together an advisory board to gain experience and wisdom from people who can help you stay current.

The CEO must be a cheerleader.

You must communicate what’s going on to the rest of the team, explaining the company’s results and getting employees onboard with your vision for the future. If you want them to buy into what you’re selling, you have to align their best interests with your best interests. Often the best way to do that is through open and engaging communication.

These sage words from Warren Buffett can be a lens for many areas if life. Where could you apply them?


I’ve been rereading Warren Buffett’s old Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letters. It’s all part of updating my free e-book, Warren Buffett Predicts the Future, which you can download here.

Before I explain the latest lesson I’ve been reflecting on, I have a question: Have you ever known anyone who has ever had one of the following experiences?

  • Maybe you know a homeowner who was frustrated when they went to move, and they learned that the expected sales price for their current home didn’t reflect all the renovations and improvements they’d made over the years.
  • Maybe you know a former student who spent years and lots of money to get a degree in a field that he or she was passionate about, only to find that it was very difficult to make a living.
  • Perhaps you’re acquainted with someone who pined romantically for another person, and who did what they could to try to gain that person’s affections (within reason, I hope), only to find it didn’t matter, because they “just weren’t that into them.”
  • Perhaps most relevantly, maybe you know someone who has poured their heart and soul into a business for a long time, only to realize that the market just isn’t buying what they have to offer.

If you’ve ever known anyone like that — in other words, someone who fell for the incorrect assumption that the value of anything must necessarily be related to the amount of effort or materials it took to create that thing — then it turns out Buffett might be just the person to explain the facts of life.

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In particular, I find that I’m drawn to a short statement — just 15 words — that Buffett used to illustrate a simple but brutal truth that so many people fail to appreciate, both in business and in life.

It came in the context of a series of bad decisions that Buffett describes at length, and in retrospect of course, in some of his shareholder letters over the years, starting with the fact that he bought Berkshire Hathaway to begin with.

As Buffett describes it, he made the acquisition almost in a slow-burning fit of pique, after he tried to sell his minority stake in the company, but its then-chief executive tried to needle him on the price. As a result, Buffett has said, he doubled down, and soon had the lion’s share of his investments tied up “in a terrible business about which I knew very little. … I became the dog who caught the car.”

After that, he explained in another shareholder letter, he “quickly compounded the error” by marrying an insurance business with the then-“terrible” Berkshire, which “eventually diverted $100 billion or so from [his investors] to a collection of strangers.”

But his longest-running mistake in this string was to work so hard and so long to try to make the core textile business of Berkshire Hathaway sufficiently profitable. He put in charge a pair of executives whom he later called “excellent managers, every bit the equal of managers at our more profitable businesses,” but it didn’t matter.

By the late 1960s and into the 1970s, and 1980s, it simply wasn’t possible for a New England textile business like Berkshire’s to compete — first with mills in lower-cost Southern states, and later with overseas factories.

By the time Buffett finally gave up on this quixotic effort, two full decades later, and Berkshire tried to wind down, demand was so low that it had to sell equipment it had paid $13 million for at pennies on the dollar: $163,122. Other textile looms that Berkshire had bought for $5,000 each just few years earlier were sold for scrap ($26 each).

All of this leads to the 15 word quote, which Buffett actually said in context in an interview a decade ago. It’s the middle sentence of the three in the passage below: 

The interesting thing about business, it’s not like the Olympics. You don’t get any extra points for the fact that something’s very hard to do.So you might as well just step over one-foot bars, instead of trying to jump over seven-foot bars.”

Now, Buffett is talking about business, but this realization also applies to many other parts of life, too: academics, ambitions, even relationships.

(Heck, it even applies to that expensive equipment Berkshire wound up selling for scrap.) 

The world is full of people who hesitate to appreciate this: passionate entrepreneurs, especially, but people in all fields, who sink so much time and money into their passions, only to find that it becomes harder and harder to separate the effort they’ve put in from the value others ascribe to their work.

It’s not a value judgment. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue things you care about, or take risks. It’s just cold, hard economics: a brutal truth, if you will.

Refusing to contemplate it is like arguing with arithmetic.

Buffett learned it. And the earlier most people learn it, the happier and more successful they’ll be.