What can the Oscars tell us about leadership

oscarsI personally don’t watch the Oscars.

I am not really in to pop culture, I don’t see too many current movies, and I don’t find award shows entertaining except for the opening, which I can see on Youtube the following day.

Well the 2017 Oscars punished me for my antisocial behavior!

In what will be known as the largest blunder in Oscar history, the award for Best Picture was mistakenly awarded to La-La-Land instead of the actual winner Moonlight.  Through a series of unfortunate events, the wrong envelope declaring the winner ended up in the hands of Warren Beatty who seemed to know something was amiss.  It appeared to be obvious that the card in his hand was a copy for the Best Actress category awarded earlier in the night.  As the uneasiness washed over Beatty’s face he didn’t seem sure what to do. He froze like a deer in the headlights, but managed to hand the erroneous card over to his co-presenter Faye Dunaway who did not seem to recognize anything wrong.  She saw the words La-La-Land on a card, and drew upon her years of training to read what was in front of her. History was made.

Beatty was responsible for two failures in my opinion. One- he seemed to have recognized a problem and did not do anything to rectify it.  Two- once he saw that a problem existed he pawned it off to his co-presenter in an attempt to distance himself from it. This is called “throwing someone under the bus” where I am from.  Both actions are failures in leadership.

The wrong “winners” arrived on stage and were deep into an acceptance speech when a flurry of activity concluded with the announcement that indeed the wrong winner had been announced.  The correct card was shown as evidence and the Moonlight folks had the highlight of their careers ruined because no one had the intelligence or fortitude to simply say, “hey I think this may be the wrong card”.

The Oscars fiasco did not end in injury or death.  At its worst it was an embarrassing black eye to the institution and PricewaterhouseCoopers who is responsible for the envelopes.

The ability to identify and communicate known problems takes courage.  Placing your own career at risk in order to right a potential wrong is not an easy thing to do.  The ability to tackle a problem head on instead of hoping that someone else will solve it are part of the foundation of leadership.  Beatty’s avoidance of the situation will cause distrust in him for some time.  He wrongly assumed pushing the problem away from him would lessen the impact to him when in truth, it magnified his role in the whole ordeal.

When something doesn’t look right have the courage to take a breath and verify.  The slight embarrassment in the moment will outweigh the landslide that follows if you ignore it.



saving lunch money on the slopes

I just got back from a ski weekend in Colorado.    The whole family enjoys skiing and it is a great activity that we hope to share together for quite some time.  Colorado is such a beautiful place and I envision myself living there some day.

But man is skiing expensive.

One area that can really sink a ski budget is lunchtime dining.  There are two schools of thought on lunch.  Some folks will pack in a lunch but it appears that the majority take advantage of the on mountain dining for its quality and convenience.  There is no right or wrong answer and I realized everyone has different views on eating out.  For instance, I eat to survive but my wife sees dining as entertainment.  This means that if I were alone, I would pack in a sandwich and eat on the chairlift but she prefers a nice sit down lunch looking out a panoramic window and enjoying the view.

If you choose to use the on mountain facilities at lunchtime, you can easily spend $100 per day for a family of four.  Here is how I try to control costs.  This photo is not my family 🙂family-eating-lunch-on-the-mountain

  • Drink water.  Not only is drinking water healthier for you in general but it is critical when skiing at altitude.  The drier air causes dehydration which can lead to altitude sickness, headache, and fatigue.  Almost every high alpine restaurant I have been to provided free glasses and water for guests.  When bottled drinks cost at least $5 each, this is an easy $20 savings.
  • If you do buy a bottled drink like Gatorade, grab some of the free glasses at the water station and split the bottle.  I believe the last bottle that I needed to buy cost $6.50, which was made a little more palatable by splitting it in glasses for my kids.  Using glasses is more sanitary that drinking from the same bottle and reduces arguments too!
  • Plan your lunch.  Seriously…If one kid wants chicken tenders and one kid wants pizza, they are going to have to compromise.  Each lunch entree on the mountain costs about $20 each.  But in fairness, they are typically gigantic and more than enough to split 2 ways.  The last chicken basket I bought had 6 large tenders and a large order of fries.  This was plenty of food to tide my two boys over until dinner. The same goes for pizza.  A plain pizza approaches $20 each but can easily feed 2 children.
  • Snacks.  Grab a couple of candy bars at the supermarket to take on the mountain.  A Snicker bar was $5 in the restaurant but $1 at the grocery store.  Give the kids a treat without breaking the bank by stuffing a couple in your jacket pocket in the morning.
  • Be a garbage disposal.  Even with all of the food sharing we do as a family, there is left over food.  My kids share a meal and my wife has a small appetite so I will typically eat whatever they don’t.   I think they all used to be embarrassed by it when we started, but now it is part of our routine.  I’ll supplement with a granola bar from my pocket if necessary.
  • Stick it out until apres.  If you can make it until 3PM without lunch, almost all bars have happy hour specials on food and drinks.  You can use apres as a very late lunch or early dinner for about 50% off normal prices.  You may be eating beef nachos for $8, instead of beef tacos on the mountain for $20.  If you find 3PM too much of a stretch just take some granola bars or hard snacks to eat mid day for an energy boost.

Our ski mountain lunch time routines have the potential to save us about 50% compared to a family of 4 who don’t plan their lunch purchase at mountain restaurants.

Like any cost saving exercise it will be more successful if not authoritarian.  In my perfect world I would pack PBnJ sandwiches for everyone and drink free water.  This would not go over well with may family so I figure out ways to meet their goals as well as mine through the system discussed above.

a review of Mod Pizza

MOD Pizza

A number of quick fire pizza places have come and gone in my town but I think Mod Pizza is going to be here for a while.

Mod Pizza is a franchise that offers pizzas at different sizes but from there you get unlimited toppings included.  You can go simple and get a plain Jane pie, build your own, or choose from any of about 10 pre-configured favorites.

The thing that I like about Mod is that they offer a personal sized pizza that is plenty big enough for an adult and it is priced under $5.  When you add in a cup of water it is a pretty good deal for a delicious dinner.

Mod Pizza stands out in this regard.  They are offering a normal portion size at a fair price. The small size pizza helps keep us our waist line thin and our wallet fat.  Too many restaurants supersize options and provide giant portions in order to justify their higher prices.  Mod is hitting the target by offering a minimalist option that prevents waste and excess.

I don’t hate the Girl Scouts anymore

Traffic SignsIt’s that time of year again when we run the gauntlet, exiting our local grocery stores shielding ourselves from the chorus of young girls and mothers imploring us to buy overpriced cookies.

I used to be opposed to the concept of the girl scout cookie sale because I don’t believe I witnessed it being done in the spirit it was designed.  My experiences with the sale were 4-5 girls loitering by the market entrance as their mothers were within arms reach glaring at me, daring me to walk by them without purchasing their wares.  The mothers always prompted the girls on what to say and how to act.  It felt like an exploitation of cute freckle faced youth in order to fund raise for the all mighty local council.

I never bought their cookies, mostly out of spite.  I mean who could reasonably say that the cookies didn’t taste good?  I even had psychotic day dreams of setting up my own table next to them.  In my vision, I would buy boxes of Oreos from the market and give them away free of charge just to destroy my competition.  My sanity prevailed, and I simply walked on by with a curt, “no thanks”.

All of this changed on Saturday when my adorable neighbors pulled their wagon up to me as I was outside.  They addressed me by name, made a sales pitch, and sold me a box of whatever they call Samoas these days.  The most important part of this transaction is that there were no parents to be seen.  No one coaching them through the pitch.  No one carrying their cookies.  No one doing math and making change with cash money.  In an instant I finally saw the true intent and evidence of the actual mission of the cookie sale.  The girls were independent and mature as they engaged with an adult.  I got over my disdain for the fundraising process and saw these girls as an example of what the cookie sale tries to teach.  They seemed to enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit and I would bet they were not racing toward a sales goal a’la Judy Blume’s “Fudge”.

I am glad I had a great experience with the sale to help me overcome a bias and learn to be a little less cynical .  When they make a calorie free cookie I’ll buy even more.

PS – Girl Scouts need Square readers.



hey kids, we’re quadrillionaires!

Back in 2008 when I was wasting money like a sailor on weekend leave, I bought some Zimbabwe currency notes from eBay to keep as souvenirs.  The nation of Zimbabwe had undergone such massive hyperinflation that they printed notes in obscene denominations to make up for the lack of purchasing power.  This is compared to the Weimer Republic of Germany version of hyperinflation in 1921 in which no new currency denominations were considered and it literally would take a wheelbarrow full of cash to make the most mundane purchases.  At lease Zimbabwe made it easy to carry a wallet full of money with their exponential denomination values but I digress.

The allure of the notes that I bought were that each bill was worth 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollars!  For reference that is Z$100,000,000,000,000.  That’s a lot of zeros. I bought ten of them and acquired a cool 1 quadrillion Z dollars!  I felt like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet all rolled into one for a fleeting second.  I think I paid USD$50 for the lot.  Here is a picture of my fortune below.


As far as currency goes, they were worthless but it was real life Monopoly money and I stashed it away.

I was recently talking about inflation with my kids and explaining currency and purchasing power.  The discussion reminded me of my Zimbabwe fortune and I used it in my lesson with my children.  A loaf of bread at my local Wegman’s cost $1.00USD and for reference I showed the kids that the quadrillion Zim dollars in front of them wouldn’t even cover it.

We then went online to research the Zim dollars further and to my astonishment they have become quite valuable as collectibles!  My $50 purchase as a joke was now worth about $500.  It might be the most profitable “investment” I have ever made!

I don’t know if I will sell the notes due to the quirky collectability of them.  I also like being able to say I am a quadrillionaire, even if it is a stretch of the imagination.

comparison is a slippery slope

I often read articles such as this Bloomberg one that speaks of an average American’s debt load.  It is very easy to read it and make a binary decision that you are either better or worse off than than your fellow citizens based upon the average revolving debt of $16000. When a mortgage is included, the number jumps to $132500.

This sort of comparison fallacy can breed a false sense of security if you fall under the average and it should not be used as a definitive reason to remain in substantial debt.  It is a trap to compare yourself to someone who is in more debt than you are and then decide your financial situation is reasonable.

I can relate to this dangerous type of comparison that led me down a path of poor health for a while.

When I was working in center city Philadelphia, lunchtime junk food was readily available. There were a number of pizza places, food carts, and Chinese restaurants on the same block as my office.  My colleagues devoured unhealthy foods daily.  They were overweight and out of shape.  I rode my bike to work almost every day and was at a healthy weight.  I only made bad food choices a couple of times per week compared to their daily gluttony.

Imagine my surprise when a routine blood test showed dangerously elevated fats and cholesterol in my results!  I was blinded to my own poor eating choices when I compared myself to my coworkers who ate poorly every day.  The thought of my own dietary indiscretions were overshadowed by my comparison to those around me who were unhealthier than I was.

The blood test snapped me back to reality and I worked to reduce the unhealthy food consumption and more importantly  I identified and eliminated the comparison trap as a crutch to making bad choices.

Think first in 2017

In all cases, my goal for 2017 is singular.

It will be my mission to “think first” in all aspects of my life.

If the kids do something I don’t like, I will think first before getting upset and yelling.

If my wife and I argue, I will think first before escalating and work to resolve first.

If presented with unhealthy food options, I will think first before inhaling them.

If I feel like skipping the gym, I will think first and ponder what the lack of exercise will do to me.

If I find myself buying something mindlessly and without purpose I will think first.

You get the idea.

Something that I used to be really proud of was an ability to make fast decisions based upon any information I had at the time.  As I get older I realize that gathering more information and making even better decisions is more desirable.  By simplifying my mission for 2017 and being more thoughtful and deliberate with a “think first” mantra I hope to have healthier relationships, more effective decisions, and a happier year ahead.