Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

How I Did With My 2015 Predictions

It’s always easy to make a bold prediction about what will happen. It’s much harder to hold yourself accountable for what you predicted would happen. Every year, I evaluate, with brutal honesty, how I did with forecasting what would take place in the current year.

For reference, her was my post last December that outlined everything I thought would happen in 2015. Additionally, please keep in mind, my 2014 predictions had an 80% success rate , my 2013 predictions saw a 60% thumbs up rate and my 2012 predictions were 90% right. While my 3-year average of being 85% on the mark, is great, it’s by no means an indicator of how this pas year’s predictions will go. If you will, sometimes, it’s better to be lucky, than good.

Without further adieu, here are my 2015 predictions, with analysis and scoring in bold font.

  1. Apple Will Launch A Music Streaming Service, It Will Rival Spotify, Crush Small Players, But It Will Not Be A Universal Success: See #2, but I don’t think an Apple streaming service is going to push out Pandora. I actually think Pandora is going to thrive. Apple’s streaming service, because it will be pre-populated on every iPhone, iPad, etc. will have massive scale, but will struggle to convert users from rival services. It will pave the way for 2016 though, when I think Apple’s streaming model will take off. This was a home run, across the board. Apple purchased Beats, turned it into Apple Music, launched a free trial and now has nearly 1/3 the number of paying subscribers as Spotfiy. Depending on how you cut the data, it’s either #2 or #3 in the marketplace. As they propelled forward we saw upstarts like Tidal flop and mainstays like Pandora and Last.FM are beginning the death spiral.
  2. We Will See A Resurgence In Radio: Similar to vinyl’s growth and comeback, I think the shift toward a streaming and on-demand world is going to propel radio forward. Additionally, people’s desire for local information and knowledge will keep them coming back. We might see some consolidation in radio stations or a consolidation in large network holding companies, but, the overall health of radio will be much better than it has been the past few years. A mixed bag here. If you look at radio as being live traditional radio, digital radio streaming (eg I Heart Radio) and satellite radio, I was wrong. It’s flat or slightly down. But, if you account for podcast usage, I nailed it. Podcasts (who knew) are driving radio growth. Given that Nielsen and other reporting services consider podcasts, “radio”, I’m taking this as a win.
  3. Google+ And Google Glass Will Be Retired: Google may evolve these products and then call them something else, but you will not see Google+ and Google Glass as platforms or products, come the close of 2015. Depending on your perspective this was a 50% right or 100% right, perspective. Google Glass is dead; yes dead. Officially, Google+ isn’t dead and it’s shifted as to being a connection platform . But, that’s like saying, technically, Tidal isn’t dead. By technicality, I’m going with 100% right, because I didn’t say Google+ would die. I did say it might pivot, which it has.
  4. A Governing Body, Most Likely The FDA, Will Crack Down On The Wearables Market, Forcing Many To Fold: Ultimately, these products are edging closer and closer to medical devices. But, manufacturers aren’t treating them as such. They’re instead treating them like casual gadgets, when they are obviously more than that. This is going to cause a problem for these who didn’t take the time to work with governing bodies to ensure they’re products were legit, honest and legally factual. Total miss. Never happened. The FDA even said, they have no interest in regulating this industry, right now.
  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens Will Become The Highest Grossing Movie Of All Time: Technically, this won’t happen until 2016, but the movie launches in 2015. The total worldwide sales will make Frozen look pedestrian.
  6. Google’s Search Business Will Have A Down Year: Yes, I’m serious. Their dominant core product is going to run just a tick above flat. I want to make sure I’m clear here when I say “core product.” At the end of the day, Google’s core product is making money of off search results. The majority of those results take place in the traditional Google.com experience. It will retain it’s overall dominance on broad searches, but as people continue to browse and discover, we’re going to see search volume shift to places and platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, Spotify, Flickr, fourSquare and YouTube. Yes, YouTube. Instead of going to Google and typing in “Star Wars Trailer”, people are going to start going directly to YouTube to perform those searches. Net-net, we’re going to see a big shift from “search” to browse and discover. No matter how you look at it, Google had a down year for traditional search. Here’s two great articles, one from Business Insider (yes, Business Insider) shows the macro shift and this article covering Google’s Q3 financial results, shows search to be struggling, though not failing. Revenue up, CPC’s are down and usage is down, except in mobile. This prediction came true.
  7. The Apple Watch Will Be A Success For Apple, But Will Fail To Propel The Smart Watch Category Forward: You might be saying huh? Ok, let me explain. Apple has a problem. Specifically, they have a problem with the iPad. The core iPhone business is great, but the iPad is so good, it doesn’t require people to upgrade often. The Apple Watch will fill the void of the slumping iPad sales, but it won’t be a big enough to make smart watches a must have accessory for the broader consumer market. Happened. It’s a billion dollar business. The Apple Watch is #1 in the smartwatch category, but the smartwatch category is still tiny.
  8. There Will Be A Major Cloud Services Hack That Will Take Down A Number Of Major Platforms: I don’t know which service is going to hacked. What I know is that something is going to get hacked and it’s going to have a major impact. For example, imagine Pandora getting hacked and having that hack impact all the cars that have Pandora installed. It’s going to be something like that. There were some pretty hefty data breaches. I’m looking at you Snapchat…again. But, there was nothing that was widespread to the point that it acted like a daisy chain and impacted dozens of companies. I missed on this.
  9. The C-Suite Will See A Major Overhaul: Two things are going to happen. One, we’re going to see a premium on digital experience and background. For example, instead of seeing the traditional CMO model (brand management + MBA), we’ll see someone that comes from a tech background. Additionally, we’ll see a premium on ethics and “clean” backgrounds. You can’t pull another Gurbaksh Chahal and stay employed. It just can’t happen. To be bold, I think we’ll see 3 C-Suite execs, from startup/tech organizations, eliminated because of public / negative PR. Additionally, I think we’ll see a major organization, like Target, follow the Walgreens playbook and elevate a digital leader into a CMO role. So, I went big on this one. It’s a mix of right and wrong with the predictions. Let’s start with the C-Suite emphasis on digital. I nailed this one. Take your pick on the examples. You have Barnes & Noble, The White House, LVMH and so on. C-suites are recognizing the need for digital talent at the most senior level. What hasn’t seemed to happen, which is surprising to me, is that the people taking these roles aren’t younger or from more non-traditional backgrounds. I imagine that will change in time. With respect to the job eliminations, there weren’t many to speak of, which is a good thing. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t drama or a lot of firings for doing or saying dumb things. But, there wasn’t a C-level person at a large organization or startup that was relieved of his/her duties for saying/doing something that society deemed unfit. Net-net, this was a 50/50 prediction.
  10. Publicis Or Another Large Agency Holding Company, Will Take A Run At A Major Merger: Following the failed Publicis-Omnicom merger, we’re going to see pride, ego and financial pressure force an attempt at another mega merger. I could see IPG and MDC combining forces, or WPP and IPG. This will happen, if for no other reason than the world isn’t big enough for 5+ holding companies. Total miss. Never happened. There were some minor things done by Publicis. But, there was no mega merger, and apparently, for good reason.

Not bad. Not perfect. But, not bad. By my count I was correct on 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7. I whiffed on 4, 8 and 10. 9 was 1/2 correct and 1/2 wrong. The jury is still out on 5, but there’s no doubt it’ll be the highest grossing movie of all time, based on the early sales performance of pre-purchased tickets. With that in mind, I’m taking it as a win and will modify if proven wrong. Thus the tally is 6.5 right and 3.5 wrong, for a 65% hit rate. Considering how much bolder these predictions were, I’ll take it! That brings my 4-year tally to 75.7% (26.5/35). If this were Vegas and I was playing the tables or sports book, I’d be rich. But, alas, there are no prizes here.

I’ll have my 2016 predictions up by Christmas. Thanks for reading.

“Nothing Left To Do But Smile”

My dad loved Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead. Jerry sang it best, when he said, “Nothing left to do, but smile.” I think my dad, would have agreed. He passed away at 12:13 AM on September 11, 2018, after suffering a brain stem stroke, following open heart surgery. My brother and I were there with him, in the room, when we finally left us. It’s a surreal experience to watch your dad slip away. But, I’m glad he’s no longer on machines that were artificially giving us the false representation of life. There were only 3 things, my dad habitually reminded me, when it came to his passing:

  1. Don’t let me become a vegetable, connected to machines.
  2. Make sure you cremate me. When I go, I want to just fade away. Spread my ashes at Washington Square Park.
  3. At the end, that’s when you can finally have all my f!$%ing vinyl.

We agree on #1 and #2. Except, when I go, sprinkle me off the BROOKLYN Bridge. As for #3, the man had an amazing vinyl collection. We’re talking first pressings of the White Album, The Wall and Born in the USA. He refused to give me a single record and would playfully remind me, only when he’s not there to play them, will I get my hands on them. I loved him for his simplicity, consistency, and facetiousness.

My Dad, Robert Kmiec.

My dad was never much of a religious man. As a scientist, I think it always bothered him that you couldn’t prove the existence of a higher power. And yet, the dreamer in him, always acknowledged it was possible that there was an afterlife.

I started writing this in 2013. I knew it would be incredibly difficult to put into words what I wanted to say about my dad. Having spent the past few days finishing this, I’m glad I started it 5 years ago.

I want to tell you about my dad. He was my best friend. My dad once remarked fathers should not have to bury their children. He was right. But, just because the natural order is that a son should bury his father, doesn’t mean this is easy.

I wish I knew my dad before life got in the way. Before a car loan. Before a mortgage. Before life wore him down and turned him into a semi-recluse. I wish I knew him as the confident young man who walked into the small shop where my mom worked and sweet talked her into a first date…using Peanut M&Ms as a conversation piece.

I wish my kids knew my dad, the way I knew my dad growing up. I wish my son could have thrown a baseball with him, while he explained the physics of a curve ball. I wish my daughter could have posed tough questions, requiring lengthy, rich explanations that were bound to spark further curiosity. I just wish there was more time.

My dad was many things.

A Teacher
He taught me how to ride a bike. He taught me to catch a ball. He taught me to be a father.

A Contrarian
He so enjoyed taking an opposing position, if only to inspire better discussion and dialogue. He knew exactly what to say to make my mom’s blood boil. And he’d do it with a smirk.

A Romantic
For all of his sarcasm and wit, the man loved a good love story. When love would make you do something stupid, he was the first person to look the other way. After all, the heart wants what the heart wants.

A Movie Enthusiast
He loved a good movie, especially those full of symbolism. His ability to quote a movie and tie it into a life lesson was uncanny. And it stuck with you. I can’t begin to count the number of times he quoted ‘The Natural’. He’d tell me, “You’ve got a gift Roy… but it’s not enough – you’ve got to develop yourself. If you rely too much on your own gift… then… you’ll fail.” I remind my own son of that wisdom, on a routine basis.

Above all, he taught me how to live. When life would punch me in the gut, he knew what to say. If work was complicated, he found a way to make it simple. When my kids would make me crazy, he made me appreciate that madness. I would not be me, without him.

Some of the best moments in my life were spent on my drives home, talking with my dad on the phone. For years it was a nearly every day occurrence. Then we stopped. I really wish we hadn’t.

As we celebrate his all too short and complicated life, think back to a moment; I’m sure we all have one, where my dad said something so profound, it made you pause. It made you hesitate. It made you think just a little bit longer and a little bit deeper. He had such a knack for that.

Our lives are all a bit emptier because he’s no longer with us. But, even in death, he’s still teaching us. We get one body, take care of it. We get one life, fill it with memories.

What I Missed In Social Media

House, M.D. Quote

It’s been nearly 7 months since I gave up social media cold turkey. Every year I take on 3 challenges and one of this year’s three was giving up social media. The decision was ultimately quite easy. Towards the end of 2017 my social media feed and morphed into a cesspool of political posts, complaints and anger. That’s not what made social media fun, interesting or satisfying. Heck, even, Facebook admitted social had gone off the rails.

At the start of July, this year, as I was working on my mid-year analysis of my 2018 predictions, I decided to log back into Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Swarm to see if I had been missing anything. To be clear, while I have been completely off the platforms, I do log in to Facebook Messenger when I receive a message and LinkedIn to accept requests and respond to messages. With that out of the way, the real question of course was, had I been missing out on anything of substance? The short answer, no.

However, there’s a much longer answer that provides more nuance and specificity. Let me start with the broad strokes.

  1. There wasn’t anything happening on social media that I wasn’t learning about from someone or someplace else. For example, person A started a new job. I got a text from person B asking me if I’d heard that person A got a new job. Person C got a new dog. Heard about it from person C, in person. Person D, went on a trip to location Z. I heard about it from person E.
  2. News still traveled, but it traveled slower. Apps like Apple News and Flipboard are great aggregators of news and information, but they’re delayed in providing updates. Twitter, in particular, is lightning fast and I would say of all the social platforms, the one I miss the most.
  3. Of the things I was missing out on, after re-engaging for a few days, I’m glad I missed out on them. Social media has an ability to turn everything into a tempest in a teapot. We see the very best in humanity, but also the very worst.

So, it’s fair to say, I didn’t really miss out on anything, but it’s also fair to say the absence of social media from my day slowed down the speed of information and altered the impact of information because of how I was learning about it. Seeing a photo of someone’s 1st house is different than hearing they bought a house.

My two weeks back in social, as a lurker, confirmed a few basic rules about social media that I’d become lax on.

  1. Garbage in, Garbage Out: What you see in your social media feed is directly tied to what and who you follow. If you follow a person who Instagrams 50X a day about how they run every day and lust to travel all the time, guess what? Yep, your feed is going to be taken over by photos and videos of running and travel photos. If you follow political zealots, you can’t complain about the multitude of “the sky is falling” tweets or status updates.
  2. As Gregory House once said, “People don’t change. They just become more of who they really are.” Social media is a mirror, megaphone and magnifying glass. If there was ever a thought that things might change in the 6 months I was off social media, within the 1st 10-minutes, it was clear what a misguided thought that was. This isn’t necessarily bad. If there’s a person who generally shared photos of their family trips, it was likely that’s exactly what they’re still sharing. Conversely, if you’re the person who takes the approach of, let me share with you slices of my life that make it seem that I have the most amazing life ever…it’s pretty much unlikely that’s going to change in 6 months. Thus, if you’re expecting people to change, it’s a fool’s errand and you only have yourself to blame for expecting people to do so.

On the whole, dropping social media has been more good than bad. I’m happier, less frustrated and certainly more engaged in the moment. There’s a certain freedom that comes from not having to wonder how to best Instagram this meal…before I eat it. Now, I just eat.

Partnerships, Tough Decisions And Non-Negotiables

Come Together

It took me about 12 years into my career, to realize 3 critical things that would help shape the past 8 years and ultimately, make me a much better leader.

  1. You will get more done, go further, move quicker and have higher performing teams if you’re willing to partner. I think a lot of people think they’re good partners or are willing partners, but in fact are only doing it half-way. I was guilty of this too. What made all the difference was a willingness to give up, in order to get. Trying to protect your scope, build a wall around your function or restraining / controlling your team will only get you so far. But, if you’re willing to operate with blurry lines, give up control and realize you don’t need to own it to make it a success, you’ll be all the more successful for it.
  2. There is no joy that comes in making tough decisions, but joy and satisfaction can be found in making them. Too often what goes unsaid are the most important things. When someone asks for your honest opinion, you owe it to them, your team and yourself to say it…and say it with impact, in plain language.
  3. Some things simply matter more. Think about buying a car. You might want that car to be grey in color, have 4 doors, be blessed with heated seats, include a moonroof, etc. But, when push comes to shove, some of them are nice to have and some of them are mandatory. Those mandatory features are the non-negotiables. They’re the ones you can’t live without, no matter what else is thrown in. Knowing those non-negotiables upfront makes for better outcomes, faster decision making, and clearer expectations.

In 2012, Michael Eisner, the former CEO of Disney published a book titled, “Working Together, Why Great Partnerships Succeed” – It’s a great read, with each chapter highlighting different seminal moments in his career, where it was clear, partnerships lead to better outcomes.

The best passage, for me, and the one that hits on all 3 of the lessons I’ve learned, is in the first chapter. In it, Eisner tells the story about what happened when he was offered the job of Co-CEO at Disney. As Co-CEO, he would have shared the CEO title and responsibility with Frank Wells.

This is the passage:

“You and Frank,” Stanley summarized, “will be co-CEOs. You will share power at the top of the company, and together report to the board of directors. You’ll handle the creative side. He’ll handle the business side. But you’ll be equals.”

“I really don’t want to do this unless I’m the sole CEO,” I heard myself saying. “I’m extremely flattered, of course, but I just don’t think that arrangement makes sense.”

There was an utter quiet in the room. As I would tell Jane that night, I couldn’t believe what I had just said. Sure, I believed what I was saying, but still: the most storied entertainment company in the world was offering me a parachute away from what threatened to become for me a Hollywood dungeon, and I was telling them their plan wouldn’t fly.

Maybe, though, I had an instinct. Even if I was overplaying my hand, maybe, just maybe, it might work.

Less than three seconds later, Frank Wells broke the silence. “Okay,” he said. “You can be chairman and CEO, and I’ll be president and COO.”

If I had stunned myself by blurting out my own demand, I was, silently, at least doubly shocked by Frank’s reply. After all, he had set up the plan that they proposed. Fortunately, I had learned early in my career to take yes for an answer. Too many times a person is told okay, and then says, “Really? You must be kidding. I can do that?” I knew when to say yes. So I simply said, “Great. I’m in.”

But in the days and weeks ahead, I found myself wondering about Frank. What kind of person would spend his life so successfully climbing his way up the corporate ladder and then, at the very top, step aside for someone else—and someone else, for that matter, he didn’t know very well? I had spent the previous twenty years working in a terrific partnership alongside Barry Diller, one of the most brilliant executives the entertainment world has ever seen, but now, this Frank Wells appeared to be a different sort of animal: an executive who could cede power just like that, and be as comfortable as a number two as he was as a number one. Could that really be true?

I was about to find out. Frank and I got the jobs, just as we had defined them that day on the terrace at Stanley Gold’s house. We were headed into the toughest challenge of our professional lives, together. For the next ten years, that journey would be as exciting, enjoyable, rewarding, and triumphant as either of us could have dared to hope. From our first day in the office that fall, my partnership with Frank Wells taught me what it was like to work with somebody who not only protected the organization but protected me, advised me, supported me, and did it all completely selflessly. I’d like to think I did the same for Frank, as well as the company. We grew together, learned together, and discovered together how to turn what was in retrospect a small business into indeed a very big business.

We learned that one plus one adds up to a lot more than two. We learned just how rewarding working together can be.

I’ve referenced that book and this story before. It’s a book I refer back to quite often. That story always sticks out. But, it’s incredibly telling not only about the type of leader Eisner was, but also the type of leader Frank Wells was. While the story is from Eisner’s point of view, I would love to have heard it from Wells’ as well. I suspect it would have been something to the effect of:

In that moment, I realized that having the title of sole CEO was Michael’s non-negotiable. I couldn’t care less about my title. Disney was big enough for both of us to be busy, inspired and impactful. What I did know is that there was no way I’d be successful without someone like Michael as a partner. For me, the decision was easy. I would take the role of COO, Michael could be CEO and we’d accomplish more together than apart. I’d have to give up the title of CEO to get something much more valuable; the success for Disney that we both craved and the board demanded.

Maybe not 100% what he would have said, but I suspect, pretty close. It’s also the approach I’ve taken of late and I couldn’t be more satisfied.

Mary Meeker Is Santa Claus

Christmas is Christmas, but my “work” Christmas has always been the day Mary Meeker publishes her state of the internet report. Meeker is a legend in the industry and works for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of the largest venture firms in the country. This is the 23rd year she’s compiled her report. That’s just astonishing and honestly something worth applauding. Her report is always a treasure trove of data, insights, and trends that can benefit any organization.

This report is often well covered and this year’s installment is no different. My personal favorite link of the coverage is This One from Business Insider.

It’s a long deck, but worth the read. However, I went through the slides and the analysis to create a cliff notes version of trends that I found the most interesting, with my notes in bold.

  • Meeker asks, “Will market forces finally come to health care and drive prices lower for consumers?” Everyone industry, right now, is focused on value and experience. Retail is redesigning stores to improve experience. Hotels are improving the experience. Restaurants are focused on creating better experiences. Health care is doing the same. People will want more value for their health care dollar.
  • The number of Internet users now exceeds 50% of the world’s population. This is a big-time inflection point. While 50% isn’t 100%, it’s still mainstream and you could argue saturated in mature markets. That means growth is going to slow. It also means everyone, is basically on the internet. Remember when we questioned who was on the internet?
  • The average person spends 6 hours a day with their digital devices (eg smartphone). Building on the above previous point, if we want to connect with audiences, we really need to think about using digital more. And, digital isn’t just one channel or location. It’s MANY locations, tools and methods.
  • People spend 30 minutes each day watching video on mobile devices. I was equal parts surprised with how small this is and yet, not surprised we aren’t tilting our neck down for hours at a time. That said, building on the previous 2 bullets, to connect with people, we need to consider video and mobile. But, mobile is unique. We can’t copy and paste what we’re doing elsewhere. For example, a press release doesn’t read well on a mobile device.
  • Voice is no longer a plaything. Amazon has sold over 30 million Echo units and the accuracy of voice platforms (Alexa, Siri) is well over 90%. The future is closer than we think and understanding how voice “works” is really important. Creating content so voice can find it and use it is different than creating content for a laptop or phone.
  • Amazon has usurped Google as the starting point for product searches. Even as big as Amazon gets, they still need Google and Facebook to be successful. I think it’s important for a few reasons. One, yes, focus on Amazon, but if all you focus on is Amazon, you’ll miss out on all the opportunity. We need to focus on everyone.
  • Uber is not as ubiquitous as we think. In 4 of the 5 largest cities it’s cheaper to Uber all the time than own a car. The outlier? Dallas. We can’t just adopt a mass approach to a trend. Uber is big, yes, but not everyone uses it. When we think about transportation (aka ACCESS), we need to think about all the barriers and enablers.
  • There are an estimated 6.8 million people working in the gig economy. This is huge. Most of this is in transportation. But, what’s the next major industry to rely on the on-demand / gig economy? Would it be crazy to see this extend to health care? Probably not. It also makes me think about the need to take this into consideration when we consider talent / “hiring”. Not everyone wants to be full time.
  • We’re entering the age of the privacy paradox. Companies (mostly tech) are stuck between using data to make the experience better and using it to further their bottom line. This isn’t overly surprising and quickly this is going to move from tech companies to other industries. The fine line I’ve always advised the organizations I’ve worked in to adhere to is, be helpful, not creepy.
  • WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat have more than 1 billion monthly active users. I know people who use FB Messenger more than they text or email. We’re going to see these platforms, became real, well…platforms. For example, would it be crazy to use FBM for a virtual doctor’s visit? We aren’t far from it.

The above was designed to condense the 200+ slides into points that represent the opportunities and interesting points that caught my attention. Happy reading and let me know caught your eye.

It’s Been A While

Getty

Wow! Is it May already? It’s been nearly 3 months without an update/post. It’s certainly not for lack of things going on and thoughts worth sharing. But, this ‘digital detox‘ has a way of making you think less and less about the internet and more about just enjoying the moment. I’ll have a full update in June about how the digital detox is going, but at a high-level, it’s been easier than I thought it would be. The first few weeks were more challenging. Habits are hard to break. But, by February, I had little interest in social media and I was so much happier without it. Social media had become a dumpster fire of negativity, political views, and social justice warrior-esque reasons to complain. Without all of that in my life, every day, I’m genuinely more energetic, happier and relaxed. I also feel like a bit of a trendsetter. If Facebook is creating this commercial, I’m sure I’m not the only person who decided to get back to a more analog life.

Changing the page, in June, I’ll have my mid-year analysis of my 2018 predictions. But, at first glance, things are looking good. That new crystal ball I purchased on Amazon must be legit.

Some other odds and ends:

  1. I saw Avengers Infinity War, helping to make it a box office success. Although, I’m in the minority when it comes to not being enamored with the film. Too many characters, too many questions, too many plot holes and the ending wasn’t my cup of tea.
  2. Also saw, finally, Blade Runner 2049. While it performed poorly at the box office, by every metric it was critically acclaimed. I second all the people who gave it a high rating. Stellar performances across the board, beautiful (albeit at times, dark) scenery and a plot with so much subtext you need time at the end to really think about what it all meant.
  3. Nichole started a new role at Riley Hayes and also decided she wants to run her first 5K. I’ve been training her since January. That’s always a dicey proposition, but I’m happy to say, the training is paying off and she hasn’t wanted to strangle me (as far as I can tell).
  4. Despite being hit with mountains upon mountains of snow this winter, I resisted the temptation of purchasing a snowblower. I actually find shoveling to be therapeutic. I put in the earbuds, listen to a podcast and get to work.
  5. Had a gift card to the Verizon store. Used it on a pair of Apple AirPods. I’m not a fan. Good sound quality, not great. They fall out to easy for me to consider using while working out, biking, etc. I will say, however, the pairing with Apple devices is as seamless as it gets, the battery life is very good and the packaging is genius. Having the case also be a charge was incredibly wise.
  6. I joined the Instant Pot revolution. No pun intended, but while they’re much better than the old school pressure cookers, they’re not fully baked. That said, when it works well, it makes a world of difference in flavor and meat tenderness. For the record, I ordered the Instant Pot Ultra.
  7. John and Cora wrapped up Winter basketball with mixed results. This was their first year playing in Woodbury. To say that the same small town politics I grew up in the 80s and 90s are still alive, would be an understatement. I actually had a player’s mom come up to me after a game to lecture me about John. He’s a 3rd grader. He had to try out for the 4th-grade team he’s playing on. The mom of a 4th grader on his team was none too happy that John was playing up and taking minutes away from her son. She said, clearly, “He doesn’t belong here. He should be playing with his own kind.” Stunning to say the least.
  8. The kids are headed to the FC Barcelona USA soccer camp this Summer, in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m excited for them to learn from a different class of instructors and to train against talent from all over the country. I’m also incredibly thankful that UnitedHealth Group has such a progressive philosophy for remote working. I’ll be working out of our Atlanta office that week. Without that type of flexibility, it would have been very difficult for John and Cora to attend.
  9. Two years ago I decided to get into soccer and in doing so, I picked Manchester City as my club. Wow, that was a smart choice. After a meh first year where we came away with no trophies, this year we set the world on fire. We broke records left and right while dominating the Premier League. On top of that we won the English League cup. We were a questionable red card away from most likely going on to win the FA Cup. And, we made it to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League tournament. The kids and I had our first early morning pub viewing experience when we watched City best Manchester United at Brit’s Pub. I’ll always remember John yelling at a United supporter, “You spent $100M on that? On that?”, after a total whiff by Romelu Lukaku. What a year/season. Soccer truly is global and it’s helped me connect with team members at work and random strangers. As global as it is, it’s also incredibly local. This celebration campaign by Manchester City shows that well.
  10. Took the family to Vernon, NJ to celebrate my niece’s 1st birthday. Ahead of the party, we took a tour of Vernon and I showed the kids my old school, the fields I played baseball on and the courts where I learned to ball. John being John, found a ball and then proceeded to shoot and shoot and shoot.

The first 4 months of the year flew by. The list above only scratches the surface. But, I guess when you’re not busy trying to stream your whole life, you have a lot more time to enjoy life.

The Worst Thing About The Pharmacy Experience

If there’s one thing I know a lot about, it’s the pharmacy patient experience. After working on the Rite Aid business for years and working at Walgreens for some time, I’ve seen a significant amount of research, patient feedback and other data about the pharmacy patient experience.

Imagine this situation. Your kids are sick. They’re miserable. The flu has completely knocked them out. You’ve been up for days watching what you thought was a cold, become the full-blown flu. Except that it’s not just the flu, nope, you got lucky, it’s all bronchitis. You take the day off and bring your kids into their primary care physician. They indicate yep, these kids are sick. They send you on your way with some instructions about rest and hydration, but also call in some prescriptions to your local pharmacy. Now, you know that it usually takes about 15 minutes to have your medication ready and you’re relieved that those scripts will be ready by the time you show up from the doctor’s office.

All good right? Not exactly. You get to the pharmacy, provide your name and the pharmacist comes back with bad news. Unfortunately, your prescriptions are not ready because they required prior authorization and as such, they need to get in touch with some combination of your insurance company and your physician. That relief you felt is replaced with anger and disbelief.

I’ve seen the above situation play out all too many times in customer feedback and I’ve also been that patient. It doesn’t have to be that way. Seriously.

PreCheck MyScript is a new product that doctors can use to make it quicker and easier for patients to get their prescriptions. It effectively takes the guesswork out of the experience. Not only do you avoid the painful experience I outlined above, but you’ll also know the medication cost before you even leave your doctor’s office. No, it’s not magic or some type of sorcery. It’s just PreCheck MyScript, another way UnitedHealthcare is making the patient experience smoother, while providing even more transparency.

I’m really thrilled with the video my team created to help create awareness about PreCheck MyScript. They knocked it out of the park. For those of you in the industry, you know how challenging it is to simplify something complex. They absolutely delivered on that challenge. More to come.

Make The Experience Distinct And Memorable

John and Cheryl with Jimmy Butler.

I’m a Chicago Bulls fan. I should be a Knicks fan, given I grew up in New York. But, it was hard not to root for MJ as a kid. I grew up with MJ and MJ lead me to the Bulls. Even when the Bulls were bad, I backed them, like a true fan should.

Fast-forward many years later and I moved to Chicago. The Bulls were horrible. They were coached by Tim Floyd, who had no business coaching a professional NBA. As bad as the product was, I still rooted, I still cheered and I stayed loyal to the Bulls.

I lived in Chicago, 3 different times. I went to so many Bulls games. I watched Bulls teams that were good, bad and on the cusp of greatness. Not once did I ever consider becoming a season ticket holder. I loved my Bulls, but the combination of cost, location and product never lined up. If you’re going to become a season ticket holder in the NBA, you really need to gear up for 41 games. Despite my love for the Bulls, I didn’t see myself making that commitment.

This past Summer, we moved to Minnesota. Over many a margarita to celebrate the house we had just found, Nichole and I agreed, we should get Minnesota Timberwolves tickets. Wait, “what”, you’re saying. I know, I know. Let me explain.

  1. There’s a big-time Bulls connection. On the Wolves roster, you have Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford and Aaron Brooks. Oh, and they’re coached by Thibs. Even if it was to root for Jimmy, a classic Bulls player, it seemed worth it.
  2. The product, so to speak, looked great. They have a young core of homegrown players, in a newly renovated stadium and with new uniforms.
  3. The location is great. Getting in and out of the Target Center is a breeze.
  4. The kids would love it. I tried to get them to be Bulls fans, but given they’re growing up in the Twin Cities, it makes sense they’d root for the Wolves.
  5. The price was palatable.

So, we got 3 seats. I’ve never been a season ticket holder for any sport or team. Thus, in fairness, I have nothing to compare my experience against. However, I’ve been to a lot of games across all the major sports leagues. I can honestly say, I’ve never seen a team so committed to its fans. They’ve made a clear commitment to creating a distinct and memorable fan experience. There are the little things, like how they pick season ticket holder’s child to bring the ball to center to court and how they pick 2 season ticket holder children to be honorary captains who get to meet the captains for both teams. Season ticket holders also get to access the arena, up to an hour earlier than the general public. This allows you to see the players shoot around. Very cool.

Then, you have bigger things, like hosting a season ticket holder Christmas event where there was a fan lead Q&A with 3 players and the ability to take a Christmas photo with Crunch. I can tell you, my kids STILL talk about it. There are also adult events like a private tour of Surly Brewery, complete with food and free beer. I’d, of course, be remiss if I didn’t also mention that season ticket holders get a discount on merchandise. That leads to both kids owning shirts and jerseys, not to mention Christmas gifts.

I could wax on and on about all the things that the Minnesota Timberwolves organization does to make sure little moments and big moments are distinct and memorable. It’s that total fan experience that makes you want to go watch the team play instead of heading out to dinner, going to a movie or some other activity. Make no mistake, people vote with their wallets. We’re voting 41 times to spend an evening with the Wolves and that’s just the games. With all the season ticket holder events they also have, I’d say, we’ll spend 20% of the year (as measured in days) with the Wolves. That’s a serious commitment. But, when you have a business focused on creating distinct and memorable experiences like this moment, earlier in the week, when John got to meet Jimmy Butler, it’s money well spent.

Add 3 New Things Every Year

Never Stop Learning

A few years back, just after I turned 30, I realized the need to find new ways to refresh my brain. There are several studies that show the how learning new skills like painting, helps fight off Alzheimer’s disease. I wondered if I could apply the concept at an earlier age. I also wondered if the brain could be trained and worked out, like a muscle. There’s a significant amount of data that shows muscles stop improving if you keep training them the same way. The experts call it muscle confusion.

In my first year I took up:

  1. Snowboarding: after years of skiing, I made the switch. This was more than just a challenge. In solidarity with my kids, we were going to take on something new together. They were learning skiing and I promised to fall down with them as I learned snowboarding.
  2. Boxing: still til this day, one of the best workouts you can have. It’s high octane and the sweat is real.
  3. Target Shooting: bought a pistol after a grueling Illinois background check process, took some classes and hit the range.

Over the years this concept of learning and trying 3 new things every year, lead to my new found love of soccer (a success) and my attempt to understand Snapchat (a failure).

This habit has been incredibly rewarding and fun. The pursuit of knowledge acquired from experience can be a lifetime quest.

This year I’m investing my time into 3 areas:

  1. Carbonated Beverages: Pepsi, Red Bull and I have a long-term relationship. At my most recent annual physical, which I passed with flying colors, I asked my doctor what more I could do. He suggested giving up white food, like bread and giving up on sugary carbonated beverages. I said, “Doc, I’m not going to lie. The bread thing ain’t happening.” But, I knew carbonated beverages would just be a battle of willpower. Challenge accepted.
  2. Social Media: In 2018 I’m eliminating all social media from my diet. No Facebook. No twitter. No Instagram. The “connection” I once found through social media barely exists. My feed, once filled with interesting, joyous and meaningful moments has been replaced with partisan politics, the narcissism of the “selfie”, armchair experts and one-upsmanship. I wonder if my health and sanity will be better without it. We’ll see.
  3. Building: I’m not sure what it will be, but I intend to improve upon the horribly designed shelf I made in 6th-grade shop class.

Maybe 3 is too many for you. Maybe 3 is too few. Either way, I highly encourage you to look for new ways of retraining your brain. Not only will you learn something new, you’ll have fun. An easy way to start is to ask your kids, nieces and nephews what they want to see you try. A child’s imagination is second to none.

The Modern Workforce

Work From Home - Image Credit, OboLinx.com

No doubt, the “modern workforce” is changing. We’re seeing a rapid evolution of what it means to “work.” Yes, there are still some salaried industries that rely on coming in by 9, leaving by 5 and taking your negotiated 1-hour lunch break. However, that approach is becoming the exception, not the rule.

Some 10 years back, when I was living in Omaha, Nebraska and working in digital marketing for ConAgra Foods, a senior exec educated me on “office space.” He explained, in a perfect world, the organization would have no office space. Physical space is an incredibly expensive liability on the books. With physical space comes rent, insurance, maintenance, overhead, taxes and a host of other line items. As he explained, if the company cooks fully eliminate its physical space cost, it could reinvest into compensation, R&D and other areas.

Fast forward a few more year’s and I’m at The Campbell Soup Company. Our CIO was light years ahead in thinking. Not only did the concept of world with zero real estate make sense, he argued companies should go a step further and embrace a full being your own device model. BYOD is often used for cell phone. You bring your phone, you pay for the service and the company lets you access your corporate email on the device. He wanted to embrace a concept where the organization would provide the “software”, but the employee brings the hardware. If you want to use a Mac, cool. ChromeBook? Fine. What happens in this model? Well, the cost of the device shifts to to the employee, as does maintenance, repairs, etc. The company wipes a great deal of liability off its books.

As we step into 2018, we’re not just ready for these two concepts to collide, we’re already seeing the value of it. This sponsored advertorial in Inc lays out a lot of the benefits of organizations that embrace a work from home model. At UnitedHealth Group, we’re routinely a top employer for remote and work from home staff. More than 40% of employees across UHG and its companies are remote. We’re at the forefront of this evolution and have been for some time.

Work from home, for a number of reasons, will become the default, instead of the rarity. Now, as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility. Marissa Mayer famously found out, quite easily, that remote workers, were, well, not working.

When you’re remote, you need to be even more present than when physically in the office. You can’t be “that person” on a conference call, clearly tuned out. A work from home model can quickly go sideways. For example, regardless of the reality, the optics of a situation where someone “works from home” on Friday and Monday, are never good. There will be a portion of the employee population that assumes they’re simply taking a 4-day vacation, every week.

Then, you have a situation, I’ve unfortunately seen too often. Combine a loose work from home policy with employees who basically take 2-week vacations every other month, by “working from home” at their vacation destination, and you have a powder keg. Rarely is this successful. We may be embracing the future, but old habits die hard.

I’ve also seen the very best in remote workers. At Walgreens I had employee who lived more than 4 time zones away, but was not only one of the most engaged employees, was also one of the best performers.

The challenge with the new modern workforce environment is that each person is still unique. I could never thrive in a fully work from home model. I enjoy the face to face human interaction. I also think I’m more effective presenting and collaborating in person. However, other team members function better in isolation and seek it.

Having a high functioning team is, to me, more important than having a single high performing team member. No person is above the team. If a single person’s work-style preference negatively impacts the sum of the team, their preference is rarely worth it. Opportunities should be given to make work style preferences, well, work. However, there’s a difference between providing meaningful opportunity to succeed and being asleep at the wheel. Candidly, some employees are not cut out to succeed I’m working from home.