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February 2016

Support efforts to upcycle wood from ash trees

 - Rob Smith is principal architect atCMBA | Smith Metzger.

A beautiful tree lined street. The one on the left before the little critter called the emerald ash borer showed up.  The one on the right is after.  Note the green grass in both pictures in case you thought the one on the right is winter. An estimated seven billion trees will die which is ten times that of the Dutch elm disease.

What happens to all those trees that get cut down?  According to Des Moines arborist David Jahn, “Most trees are used for firewood or chipped into mulch. Ash is not a desirable hardwood even though furniture and flooring have been around for centuries.”

Now there is a groundswell in upcycling ash. Aronson Woodworks in St. Mary’s has started getting ash logs from Des Moines to make ash furniture next year. Clay Aronson says “I love the distinctive grain of ash. Much like oak but not so reddish”. 

Iowa State University is working with Iowa Prison Industries to make commemorative mantle clocks from ash trees removed from campus. What an awesome idea. You can also buy a Shaker table.

David Jahn would like to see 100 more artisans doing the same. Even that might not make a dent in the supply, but it’s a start!

What can you do to help the ash upcycling movement?

  • Buy furniture made of ash to increase the demand.
  • Install ash flooring to increase the demand.
  • Buy ash kitchen cabinets to increase the demand.
  • Have some furniture made from a tree in your yard.

Let me know if you have an idea to reuse the ash trees in your yard at rsmith@smithmetzger.com


Why the iPhone encryption battle matters to you

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity. 


There is no doubt, the stakes in the battle over the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone encryption are huge. You need to be involved in this fight, pick a side and then be vocal. Call your legislators, write opinion letters to your paper’s editor, or any other means necessary to inform and engage others.

Certainly the terrorist actions were horrific. Families have been forever damaged. Our way of life has been attacked. These is no denying the pain and suffering caused by this senseless act of terror. On the surface it makes perfect sense to want to force Apple to break the iPhone encryption so that authorities are able to discover other terror links and those involved with this brutal attack.

We must, however, take a step back and look at two critical components of this argument. Setting aside our emotion, lets think rationally for a moment about the long-term consequences of the government’s request of Apple. We must also acknowledge the fact that while breaking the iPhone encryption may be the easiest or fastest way to the information, it is absolutely not the only way to get that information. That distinction must be made perfectly clear.

Let’s first consider the demand for a company to build something that it does not currently possess. The basic premise of our capitalist free market system is that the government is not involved in setting product strategy, pricing, or other day-to-day activities of private enterprise. Once we open this door, where does it end?  I understand this is a matter of national security, but we cannot continue to erode the basic principles on which our republic was founded in the name of national security.  This has happened for far too long, and there must be a limit to how far America changes before we are not America any longer.

The second issue of concern is actually the one of greater importance. It is the government’s insistence on breaking into encryption. In general this is a very bad idea. Think of all the things that are protected by encryption: every “secure” internet transaction from online banking to shopping and secure email. Protection of protected health information (PHI) in your medical records is accomplished with encryption. All of your tax records with the IRS including your Social Security number, earning history and charitable contributions are encrypted for your safety and security. Bigger picture - our nuclear arsenal, military communication, stealth technology, troop movements, battle plans…yep, all encrypted.

The fact of the matter is that encryption is a core component to just about every facet of our lives today. Both our personal and work lives are dependent on the bedrock of security that is found through the use of encryption.  Creating a backdoor or methodology to undermine the security of encryption could be devastating.  If you couldn’t trust the “SSL” used to do online purchasing, would you?  If people stopped buying online, how would that affect our economy?

The notion that the government is willing to let Apple keep this technology after they create it is absurd. Something this valuable wouldn’t be kept a secret for long. All the money the U.S. government has spent to protect military secrets has failed. China has built a stealth fighter jet based on stolen US technology. Who can honestly say this technology wouldn’t be even more valuable?

For those of you thinking I haven’t considered the other side of this argument, you are wrong. I was on Capitol Hill last year speaking with a Senate staffer working on national security issues for the Senate Judiciary Committee.  He asked, “If your child was kidnapped and the only way to find him was through a backdoor to the encryption on the kidnapper’s iPhone, would you then be in favor of a backdoor?” I looked him square in the eye and said, “No.”  I come from a long line of veterans who served during WWII, Vietnam and Iraq. One thing I know is that sometimes the sacrifices of a few must be made to protect the many.

While not having immediate access to encrypted criminal or terrorist information may have direct consequences, think of the bigger picture and the long-term consequences of a world where encryption cannot be trusted.  That’s not a world I think any of us want to experience.

Dave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity. Dave Nelson 2015 IowaBiz Blog

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: integritysrc.com

Tax season impasse: why your 2015 Iowa tax return may be on hold

-Joe Kristan is a founding member of Roth & Company P.C

Taxpayers barely averted a national tax filing season disaster this season when Congress and the president agreed in December to permanently extend important tax provisions that had expired at the end of 2014. Now our governor and legislators are doing their best to subject Iowa to the filing season nightmare that the rest of the country dodged.

Coupling20160213Iowa's tax law doesn't automatically tie to federal changes.
The Legislature passes a "code conformity" bill, or "coupling" bill, every year to incorporate desired federal tax changes into Iowa's income tax. This has been important because Congress habitually enacts many important tax provisions for only one or two years at a time. Since 2010 the governor has proposed to adopt all of the federal "expiring provisions" retroactively every time they were renewed by Congress, with the exception of "Bonus Depreciation."

The biggest of these for most Iowa businesses is the "Section 179 deduction," which allows taxpayers to deduct the cost of up to $500,000 of fixed assets that would otherwise be depreciated over a period of years. A number of other business and personal tax provisions are affected, including research credits, the provision for IRA charitable contributions, and the above-the-line student loan interest deduction.  

The Section 179 deduction is popular with Main Street businesses. With the prices for much farm equipment running well into six figures, the deduction is a big deal for farmers, but it is also important to other businesses. Failing to couple with the federal deduction would leave Iowans with a maximum $25,000 Section 179 deduction on their Iowa returns -- a significant tax increase to businesses in every county. 

Most tax people assumed the pattern of conforming to everything but bonus depreciation would continue. The Governor surprised us last month by proposing (SSB 3107) to conform to only one 2015 tax change -- the research credit. He proposed to conform with none of the remaining changes for 2015. He then would conform with all the changes -- except for Section 179 and bonus depreciation -- for 2016 and beyond.

The Governor's position was unpopular in the General Assembly. The Iowa House swiftly voted 82-14 to couple with all federal 2015 changes except bonus depreciation (HF 2092). It apparently was so unpopular that the Governor this week changed his mind and came out in favor of the House bill.

Senate Majority Leader Gronstal now holds the cards, as he can keep the House-passed bill from ever coming up for a Senate vote. The Legislature is now at an impasse. Prior to the Governor's change of heart, it appeared that no Section 179 coupling would occur. Now we can expect Senator Gronstal to use coupling as a bargaining chip for his priorities.

It's unclear when we will know what Iowa's 2015 tax law is. Iowa returns aren't due until April 30, and it’s still possible that they won't pass a coupling bill by then. The default result if nothing happens is no coupling. While I expect coupling to occur, it may take some time for the poker game to play out.

This poses a dilemma for taxpayers. If they assume that that the expiring provisions won't be re-enacted for Iowa, they'll incur the expense of filing amended returns to claim refunds if the governor and the majority leader eventually go along with the legislature. If optimistic taxpayers assume the extenders are eventually adopted, they face penalties if they guess wrong.  Iowans wanting to file their taxes the right way, for sure, are just out of luck. 

Focus lessons from a dog (Part 2)


Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Imagine" and "Beware the Purple People Eaters."

In my last post, I introduced you to my springer spaniel, Sydney, who does four basic things in life and never at the same time: eat, play, poop, and sleep. You can’t ask for a more simplified life, one free from the temptations created by technology. But most of all she’s happy, as evidenced by the continuous side-to-side gyrations of her little tail.

As humans, we also want to be happy. Most of us believe it’s a basic human right. Unlike the simplified road to happiness taken by Sydney, we have a tendency to try and use whatever we have at our disposal to acquire it. Whether it’s through status, stuff, or other people, we have a desire to feel valuable in our own eyes and in the eyes of others.

The challenge is to know what it means to be happy. Although I know a number of people who think happiness is complicated and dependent upon a large number of factors, I tend to believe happiness is nothing more than a function of both expectation and reality––the relationship of two independent variables that ultimately affect our feelings of happiness. A mathematician, or any one of the dozen or so people in the world who aren’t afraid of math, might view it like this:

Happiness = f (Expectation, Reality)

As long as someone’s reality—perceived or otherwise—is above their level of expectation, they generally tend to be happy. However, when those pesky expectations start rising too high or even stay the same while our current state of reality declines, unhappiness typically sets in.

I believe that as average people we have the most control over, or can more directly impact, our levels of expectation. Life’s outcomes and subsequent realities are typically not in our direct control, since rewards and other positive changes are frequently at the behest of others.

So let’s focus on a few aspects in life today that can directly impact our expectations:

Hedonic Adaptation: “Hedonic adaptation” is a psychologist’s way of saying the novelty wears off. Eventually, that new house, car, or smart TV you had to have becomes just another thing you own, or the job you worked so hard to get becomes just part of your daily grind. Your lifestyle adapts, and you’re back to wanting more.1 I’ve now come to embrace that happiness related to “stuff” is a choice, and there’s nothing tangible that can “make” me happy in the long-term. No matter what we work toward or feel like we must have, typically the happiness attached to it is only short-term. Each time you receive that “must-have” thing, it only serves to raise the bar of expectation for the next must-have thing.

Social Media Image Crafting: We are always trying to put our best foot forward and want to look good to others. It’s human nature. With the advent of social media, you can take it to an entirely new level and present yourself any way you wish, and it’s usually positive. According to a piece on Whole9life.com (a health and quality of life website), “Our social media feeds read like a modern-day fairy tale, where every moment is wondrous, every interaction with our family is more precious than the last, and even the mundane (Coffee with the girls! Look at my lunch! Stuck in traffic!) is a magical experience.” 2 Social media image crafting tells everyone that a perfect life is not only attainable, it’s normal. So when everything about your social media “friends” seems perfect, it naturally raises the bar of expectation related to your own “imperfect” real life; thus, the gap between expectation and reality is potentially widened causing increased levels of unhappiness.

Technological Overdependence: Frequently, happiness is thought to be the natural result of success. Although an extremely subjective term, “success” for many of us often revolves around the feeling of being busy, as “busy-ness” implies productivity. Technology helps to provide this feeling of busy. And naturally, we expect our technology to always work the way in which it was designed. When it doesn’t, it causes stress and anxiety. I was once at a busy grocery store when their computer system suddenly went down. Check-out registers could no longer take credit cards. People had to use cash. Since most people today typically don’t carry much cash, there was a mad scramble to the ATM machine, which was quickly emptied (it was on its own, separate system). Chaos, anger, arguing, yelling, and frustration all ensued. Much unhappiness was present. By the way, I did happen to have cash, so I got to watch and be entertained—and a little scared—by it all.

Future-Focused: Too often, we overly set our sights on the future, and we can only see the present after it has become the past. Being goal-driven isn’t a bad thing, unless we are too future-focused, and then our expectations of future joy can blind us to the joys and value found in the now. We may frequently find ourselves absent from the moment as any one of a great number of distractions pulls our attention in a variety of directions, all with the intent of getting or achieving something else “down the road.” If getting older has taught me anything, it’s that time is finite. There’s never enough. I’m amazed at the growing frequency of what I call “time-lapse realizations” that occur the moment I accomplish some goal or objective. While I’m happy I achieved what I set out to do, a sudden realization often follows: getting there came at a great price. A feeling of emptiness often overtakes me, as if I had been transported into the future with little memory of the daily joys from the actual act of doing. I realize how fast time raced by, and because I was so goal-oriented, I was unable to fully enjoy the experiences related to the process.

Childhood Letdown: My good friend and author Adam Carroll frequently talks about how we as parents can sometimes actually love our children too much. It happens in a variety of ways: giving them things they should have had to work for, not helping them to understand the true value of something, or by setting high expectations for them that are impractical once they become self-sustaining adults. Sometimes, in our efforts to “encourage” or “inspire” them to become successful or achieve greatness, we provide motivational but unrealistic guidance. How many parents have told their children that they can be or do “anything” they want when they grow up? According to the Book of Odds, the probability of becoming the President of the United States is 10 million to one. The probability of becoming an astronaut is even greater (believe it or not) – 12.5 million to one.3 The unfortunate, negative side effect to all of this is the potential of setting children up for failure and disappointment because expectations were set too high. When I was a child, I was doing some pretty amazing things as compared to other kids my age. I was able to represent the United States in the International Science and Engineering fair and worked in the research and design department of a computer manufacturer, all while still in high school. Needless to say, many in my family were convinced I would become the family’s first multi-millionaire; a view they often shared with me. I’m now in my fifties and am still working on that millionaire thing. Not to say that I haven’t been successful in life, but those words still haunt me a bit today, making me question, “What could or should have been?” and “How have I possibly fallen short of my potential?”

Happiness is a state of mind impacted by where we set our expectations. While these and many other factors directly affect those expectations, we are ultimately in control of where they’re set in relationship to our current state of reality.

While “strategic” and long-term goals are definitely not bad in and of themselves, they will seldom ever be achieved if set at levels requiring too much time to realize. The gap between reality and expectation will be too great, and ultimately, results in unhappiness.

Think tiny. Ideally, our expectation bars should be set at short, attainable levels so both growth and happiness are incremental. Small, short-term accomplishments will not only serve as a motivator towards the future, they will help you maintain an achievable level of ongoing happiness. After all, isn’t that what everyone wants?

Practice Challenge: Think about what you want long-term…what you really want. Then, break that down into very tiny, incremental steps. Once done, while keeping in mind all of the aspects mentioned above, focus exclusively on achieving that first step, and only that first step. After you accomplish it, move on to the next. Not only does this keep your expectations at manageable levels, it keeps happiness within reach.

©2016  Anthony D. Paustian

PaustianHeadFor more information about Dr. Anthony Paustian, provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines, please visit his website at www.adpaustian.com




1Is $50,000 Enough to Buy Happiness? What about $161,810? (April 2013) Retrieved January 11, 2016, from the Fast Company website: http://www.fastcompany.com/3006746/is-50000-enough-to-buy-happiness-what-about-161810

2The Dangers of Image Crafting. Retrieved January 11, 2016, from the Whole9 website: http://whole9life.com/2014/03/dangers-image-crafting

3 Shapiro, A. & Campbell, L. (2014). The Book of Odds: from Lightning Strikes to Love at First Sight, the Odds of Everyday Life. New York, NY: William Morrow, Inc.

Focus lessons from a dog (Part 1)


Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Imagine" and "Beware the Purple People Eaters."

If you’re like most people, odds are you’re swamped - so much to do, so little time to do it. We wade through our days trying to balance ever-growing responsibilities, and when we do them simultaneously, we feel more productive. We call this “multitasking,” and we believe the better we are at it, the more effective and efficient we will be. We tend to view multitasking as a positive, frequently sought-after attribute. In fact, as many of you read this, you’re likely responding to text messages, checking emails, eating lunch, reacting to app notifications, and thinking about the rest of your day at the same time.

But multitasking is a myth. Sure, you can chew gum while walking, listen to music while vacuuming, eat lunch while reading, or fold laundry while talking on the phone. But these activities don’t require higher-order, problem-solving skills or much brainpower of any kind. Psychologists who have long-studied the concept of multitasking have found that the brain is unable to focus on more than one higher-order function at a time. When people multitask, they actually shift their attention from one thing to another at fast speeds, and each time they switch focus between tasks, their minds must cope with the new information.

What is actually occurring is “switchtasking.” According to Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at MIT, “People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves . . . Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not.”

There are several reasons for this, but one is that similar tasks compete to use the same parts of the brain. For example, talking on the phone and writing an email are nearly impossible to do concurrently because of what neuroscientists call “interference.” Both tasks involve communication skills and contend for similar space in the brain. Multitasking doesn’t actually make us more productive; in fact, the quality of our effort suffers. Another major downside to multitasking is the negative effect it has on our stress levels as we try to balance a multitude of simultaneous activity. As a result, we feel overwhelmed, drained, and anxious.1

So why has multitasking become so important? It hasn’t always been this way. I can remember a time not too long ago when people were pretty content doing just one thing at a time and living much slower lives. What’s different? I believe the answers can be found by looking at two distinct yet interrelated aspects of everyday life: technology and our level of happiness, the latter of which will be addressed in my next post.

When I was in high school, personal computers were barely in their infancy. Way too expensive for the vast majority, PCs with any real productive power were only found at the corporate level. Some high schools and colleges were beginning to use them, but for the most part, the average person still had little to no personal contact with a computer. Cell phones didn’t exist, let alone anything remotely resembling today’s power-packed smartphones.

In other words, by today’s standards, people were pretty disconnected. To communicate, you either made a call from a bulky telephone connected to a wall, talked face-to-face, sent letters, or fired up your CB radio (if you were born after 1980 you may need to ask someone older about this).

The lack of accessible personal technology resulted in a slower life; one that required more planning and coordination to maximize productivity, stronger interpersonal skills, and greater levels of patience.

Current technology demands an entirely new context: one where people spend less time planning their days since most things can now be done on the fly; one where the need for interpersonal skills between people continues to diminish as a larger percentage of our communication is now virtual; and one where expectations of “instant” are now the norm. Be honest, after you send a text message or leave a voicemail, how long are you willing to wait for a response before feeling frustrated . . . even a little?

This change in thinking - especially for younger generations who only know this type of thinking - combined with the ubiquity of personal electronics has resulted in daily expectations of immediacy and convenience. Ultimately, we feel like we’re doing more in less time, and thus create and perpetuate the concept of multitasking.

Unfortunately, while technology has definitely become more capable, our minds still basically work the same. And the result of this ongoing pursuit to do more in less time is ultimately the diminished quality of our efforts with increased levels of stress and anxiety.

I own a beautiful liver and white springer spaniel named Sydney. Sydney does four basic things in life and never at the same time: eat, play, poop and sleep. You can’t ask for a more simple life, and despite that, she’s happy. And she’s always present in the moment.

We need to be more like Sydney and simplify our lives and stop trying to do everything simultaneously. Research has shown that our mental energy related to decision-making is finite, and once depleted, the quality of our thinking begins to dramatically suffer. As average people, we tend to spend a large percentage of our mental energy on relatively meaningless stuff that really doesn’t have any real impact on our lives, good or bad, like streaming through countless posts on Facebook and watching television. Once our brain has used its energy, we tend to miss the relevant stuff and other important details necessary to be more successful, creative thinkers within the limited time we are given.2

Studies of very efficient people show they rid themselves of distractions and the unnecessary, miscellaneous choices that deplete mental energy. They frequently eat and meet at the same places; they turn off their smartphone app notifications until they’re ready to see them; they stop dwelling on things that occurred in the past and don’t obsess on things that might happen since it’s impossible to actually do things in the past or future; they frequently wear the same clothes (think Steve Jobs); and they remove the clutter that surrounds them.3

To illustrate the power of simplification, consider the high school equivalency GED exam, which has been around for over 70 years. Recently, the exam shifted from paper to a computerized format. Unlike the paper version, where multiple questions along with multiple answer slots were all visible at once, the computerized version removed the clutter and only showed one question at a time. The passing rate on the computer exam rose to 88 percent, compared with 71 percent for the paper version (a 17 percent increase).4

Being at our creative best requires gas in the mental tank, gas that will only be available if we aren’t going full throttle every day. Be like Sydney. Simplify your life.

Practice Challenge: Keep a journal consisting of one full week’s worth of decisions. Document any and all decisions you make from the most mundane (e.g., what clothes to wear, what food to eat, etc.) to the most critical and important (e.g., financially-related, strategic, etc.). Following the week, look back through the list and determine which decisions could become routine with little or no thought given to them. Predetermine how those decisions will be made ahead of time and shift your focus towards those most important. You should feel a greater sense of energy when addressing them.

©2016  Anthony D. Paustian

PaustianHeadFor more information about Dr. Anthony Paustian, provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines, please visit his website at www.adpaustian.com




1Hamilton, Jon. Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again. (October 2, 2008) Retrieved October 28, 2015, from the NPR website: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95256794

2Vaughan, Michael. Know Your Limits, Your Brain Can Only Take So Much. (January 24, 2014) Retrieved October 28, 2015, from the Entrepreneur website: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230925

3Bradberry, Travis. How Successful People Make Smart Decisions. (October 7, 2015) Retrieved October 28, 2015, from the Forbes website: http://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2015/10/07/10-tricks-successful-people-use-to-make-smart-decisions

4Building the Educated and Employed Communities of Tomorrow. Retrieved December 28, 2015, from the GED Testing Service website: http://www.gedtestingservice.com/uploads/files/9bce820a49287fec1febad56e98bccef.pdf

5 steps to protect your trade secret

Intellectual property, including trade secrets, can serve as one of the most valuable assets in an organization.  Like most assets, however, if trade secrets are not protected, their value can quite literally vanish overnight. As such, it is important for businesses to protect their trade secrets. Here are five common practices that businesses frequently use to protect trade secrets: 
1.  Classify and conspicuously designate trade secrets.  After identifying your business' trade secret(s), clearly designating such materials as trade secret by stamping them "TRADE SECRET," is an easy first step to establishing protection. Caution should be exercised, however, when designating materials so as to avoid mistakenly identifying materials that are clearly not confidential - a mistake that can dilute the effectiveness of the entire protection process.
2. Use nondisclosure agreements.
Incorporating the use of nondisclosure agreements, especially for individuals that come into contact with trade secrets and confidential information, can add further protection. Well-crafted nondisclosure agreements often: (1) identify materials that are deemed trade secret/confidential; (2) include disclosure restrictions (e.g. restrictions on disclosure to vendors and other third-parties); (3) address the term of protection (e.g. perpetual v. term of years); and (4) provide for enforcement.
3.  Incorporate destruction strategies.
Using shredding equipment when disposing of physical materials that may reveal trade secret information is yet another logical, yet often overlooked step in protecting trade secrets. Caution must also be exercised when disposing electronic equipment that has stored trade secret information.  
4.  Adopt computer security practices.
Trade secrets and confidential information contained in computer systems may be protected through encryption as well as strong passwords and restricted access. Such practices help reduce misappropriation by not only outsiders, but also by inside employees with ulterior motives.
5.  Proactively consider departing employees.
Whether during an exit interview or otherwise, when employees depart it serves as a logical opportunity to remind employees of their confidentiality obligations and be provided with copies of any nondisclosure agreements.
If you are working to protect a trade secret, you should consider contacting a licensed attorney who practices in this area of law.


Introducing new blogger: Jason Kiesau

- Jason Kiesau, Leadership and Talent Development manager for Aureon HR, writes about success skills on IowaBiz.com.

Greetings Central Iowa!

My name is Jason Kiesau and I am the Leadership and Talent Development Manager at Aureon HR, Inc. and author of FOCUSED – Your Future Starts Now! and Leading with Style for Senior Living Professionals. The role of our team at Merit is to provide to our clients’ leaders, managers, and workforce, the training, coaching and learning opportunities that support them in achieving their goals in alignment with their organizational goals. We believe this starts with what we like to call Success Skills Mastery.

I’m on a mission to forever change the term “soft skills” to Success Skills, because without them you won’t succeed. It doesn’t matter if you are leader, manager, or an employee; you can be the smartest, most talented, and the hardest working person in the room, but if you lack Success Skills you will have limited success and will never fulfill your potential.

Success Skills Mastery will be the subject I write about for IowaBiz.com.

The three most critical Success Skills I will focus on are:

  1. Self-Management
  2. Relationship Building
  3. Strategic Planning and Goal Setting

Regardless of what you do for your employer or what board you serve on, pursuing Success Skills Mastery will quickly raise your value and make you more effective; leading to greater success.

To be successful we must:

  • Manage our attitudes, emotions, actions, and reactions and adapt them to people and situations as needed.
  • Create win/win situations and build mutually beneficial relationships by understanding others’ needs and meeting them where they are.
  • Understand strategic thinking and set and measure long- and short-term goals that align with our vision and strategic plan.

I’ve been fascinated with personal, professional and leadership development since my early 20s. I am passionate about helping people live a high-quality of life by confidently pursuing and achieving meaningful results. Prior to joining Merit six years ago, I was a strategic partner with Profiles International helping clients hire the right people and a business coach with E-Myth Benchmark (now Benchmark Business Group) working with small business owners all over the United States, supporting them in achieving their strategic objective by working ON their business, not IN their business.

Thank you for your time and attention in reading this. I look forward to contributing to IowaBiz.com and supporting your pursuit towards Success Skills Mastery! Please let me know if our Leadership and Talent Development Team at Aureon HR, Inc. can support you in achieving your goals.

Connect with Jason:

Leadership vs. management

- Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and president + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

Within the host of elements that make up an internal business culture, there is a delicate balance between how a business is led and how it is executed. There are four elements that are our focus here: we will discuss the differences between leadership and management, and how adjustments in the levels of control and accountability can feed into performance outcomes.

Our first lever arm is balanced between leadership and management. In a general sense, businesses tend to focus on management. There are a number of reasons for this: 1) Metrics are easier to establish, as they tend to be analytical and based on established benchmarks. 2) There is less risk associated with management – generally, it is the improvement or monitoring of established processes. 3) There is often no pressure to push individuals out of their comfort zones – in many ways, management is about creating conformity or adherence to the pre-established norms.

Leadership is rooted in something different. It isn’t always about change, but the purpose of leadership is to create, rather than maintain. There is a higher level of risk involved, but the outcomes are rooted in: 1) Greater organizational sustainability. 2) Higher employee engagement and investment in organizational mission. 3) Ability to positively adapt to changes in market segments.

As the balance between leadership and management is established, there are two internal elements that act as subsets of each. Control and accountability. These factors are complex and many organizations struggle to find the right levels of each. As a function of human nature, there tends to be a decrease in accountability as control is increased beyond a certain threshold. Similarly, if control is relaxed (up to a certain point), the level of accountability and employee productivity increases substantially. There are obviously extremes on both ends, but there is a range in the middle where these two factors can reach an optimized level.

In an aspirational sense, many organizations seek to self-actualize as leadership / accountable type organizations. But as risk increases, there is a tendency to gravitate back toward the safer, more cautious framework of management and control. But that’s why finding the right balance is important and to acknowledge that these two things are not the same and should not be used interchangeably.

IBM and companies like Tesla are two examples of one extreme and the other. IBM stood as an example of exceptional management for the better part of a century. However, by 1991, the strict adherence to the status quo – managing existing systems without modernizing or adapting to current market conditions – almost caused the company's complete collapse. Company officials chose to be almost exclusively devoted to management and control; low risk, which led to a contraction that was completely avoidable. Apple_welcome-ibm-seriously1

Tesla is just the opposite. As a company, Tesla is built around a singular idea – that they will lead the market by providing a product that will eventually replace the status quo. They chose to lead and that leadership instills a sense of accountability in their employees – there is a social obligation as well as the business one. There is high risk here, as it still remains to be seen if Tesla will be sustainable in the long run.

I've included an image in this blog from an ad that Apple ran to welcome IBM to the PC market, one that they should have, by all measures, been able to dominate. It serves to underscore how damaging an adherence to the status quo can be.

Leadership and management are two different things, but they are both essential to creating a successful organization. In the right doses, control and accountability are also critical elements of success. The key is to find the right recipe of each to produce the desired results and build upon your successes as an organization.

 For more information:Joe _Benesh_2011

 Contact: joe@ingenuitycompany.com

 Please follow: @ingenuitycmpny


The restaurant industry offers careers, not place holders

If you ever find yourself frustrated in your career or worried about your job prospects, please try to resist uttering the words, “I could always go flip burgers.”

It implies that “burger flipping” aka “the restaurant industry” is a workplace of last resort. We’re not.  In fact, we are an industry loaded with opportunity for advancement, compensation based on performance, and entrepreneurship.

Today, one in ten Iowans work in Iowa’s restaurant industry. That’s 9 percent of the state’s work force (145,400 people).  There are more than 6,000 eating and drinking establishments generating $3.6 billion in annual revenue in Iowa. That doesn’t even take into account the industries built around providing goods and services to restaurants. Think of the financial impact food purveyors, soft drink and alcohol distributors, equipment manufacturers and other restaurant service providers have on the state’s economy.  It’s far reaching and financially significant.  

We’re proud of the fact that people can start out in entry-level positions and end up owners. One in three Iowans found their first job in a restaurant, but more significantly, 80 percent of restaurant owners started in entry-level positions within our industry. We’re one of the few industries where this trajectory of career growth is still possible. And while it’s true you can become an owner without an advanced degree, that’s not the only, or even the preferred path.

Iowa has eight college culinary/restaurant management programs and countless restaurant-focused career tech ed programs in high schools across the state. Just this month, the Iowa Restaurant Association along with DMACC Continuing Education, launched a Hospitality Professional Development Institute for those seeking industry-specific management, human resources and cost control training. Every restaurant in the state is required by law to have a certified food protection manager—a designation that requires a $150 full day course and a standardized exam.

Want sexy? There is an entire cable television network dedicated to our industry and a growing stable of celebrity chefs whom even elementary school children recognize.

We are also champions for diversity. The restaurant industry boasts more minority managers than any other industry and minority ownership figures are also high—particularly at a national level. Over the past several decades, there’s been an 80 percent increase in Hispanic-owned restaurant businesses, a 188 percent increase in African American-owned restaurant businesses, and a 50 percent increase in women-owned restaurants.  Nationally, 50 percent of all restaurant owners are women.  In fact, Iowa’s restaurant industry may well be the key to moving our state out of the basement of female-owned businesses (we currently rank 50th in the nation.)

I was recently discussing the perception that those of us in the restaurant industry “ended up here” versus “chose to be here” with a young man with an economics degree who left his traditional office job to return to a downtown Des Moines restaurant in a management role.

He explained to me, “I look out the window and think ‘I’m still doing all of the same business-focused work I did when I was stuck at a desk in one of those office buildings, but now I get to feed and entertain 300 people every day too.’ I like that.”

Most of us like it and we’re proud to be here.

So perhaps if you actually are frustrated with your career or worried about your job prospects, you should choose to join us—we’re not a place holder industry—we’re a world of opportunity.

--Jessica Dunker Career Fair Logo with Date and Location

Should you offer incentives for referrals?

- Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals

Referrals are nothing new. People have been making recommendations to their friends and family since the Ice Age. In fact, in the olden days, word-of-mouth was the primary way of discovering new products and services. Back then the village carpenter, of sorts, would likely ask Captain Caveman if he had any Neanderthal buddies in need of a new club. He had to make a living, after all.

Fast forward to the 21st century (thank God) and, until recently, referral strategies hadn’t evolved a whole lot. In most cases, a proactive approach to obtaining referrals consisted of asking a client for the names of a couple of friends or family members. Over time, new strategies were developed aimed at leveraging existing clients to acquire new business. These methods were mostly a consequence of changing technology which influenced the way we communicate. As these strategies became more popular they were encapsulated by a single term: referral marketing.

Gas referralReferral marketing became popular with the success of incentive-based programs whose proliferation was greatly influenced by the internet. A prime example is the file-hosting company Dropbox that realized massive growth after introducing a program that rewarded its members for referring their friends. Due to their success, Dropbox became the poster child for referral marketing and, on that account, incentive-based programs were the new gold standard.

It wasn’t long before companies followed suit and started incentive-based referral programs of their own. This strategy worked well for some businesses, and flopped for others. This left many befuddled and raised the question: why were incentive-based programs proving to be hit or miss?

It turns out that incentive-based programs are more successful for companies offering products and services where personal relationships with clients aren’t paramount. On the other hand, for those companies that value business-client relationships, monetary incentives actually backfired.

This is because offering rewards for referrals is the quickest way to convert relationships once founded on trust into those that orbit money. Offering $10 gas card, for example, places a monetary value on the referral. This confirms that the business craves referrals simply because they convert to revenue.

Sociologists call this a shift from social to market norms. From ‘What can I do for you’ to ‘What can I give you’.

Remember, in relationship-focused industries, one of the most powerful reasons people refer is to help their friends and family – not for ten bucks. As soon as a monetary reward for new business is introduced into the equation (being your relationship) your client will feel like you are after their friends and family for a fatter bottom line, not necessarily because you want to help them.

So, should you offer incentives for referrals? The answer depends on your business model. If you’re a service-based company where client relationships are valuable, then it’s better to hold off. On the other hand, for companies that offer products and services where personal relationships aren’t particularly important, incentives can be an effective way of encouraging clients to spread the word.

How to get people to attend your events


-Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC

Last post we talked about building effective strategy for your events to ensure you see a positive return on investment. This week we address a common fear: what if nobody shows up?

Getting people to attend your event is a part of your overall event strategy and contributes to how effective you are at seeing a positive ROI.  Here are 5 sure-fire ways you can ensure the people you want at your event are there.

  1. Create event attendee profiles:  Start back at the drawing board by truly shedding light on what types of people you want to attend your event. Compile a list of adjectives that describe your perfect attendee. Then allow these adjectives to manifest themselves into specific people. Don’t just throw paint at the wall by inviting everyone. Rather, be laser focused on creating a specific and concise list.  Brainstorm with your team to create a list of your top 100 people you would like to attend and then allow your list to spider web out from there. You should begin profiling your target list of attendees about the same time you begin brainstorming your event objectives to ensure your messaging aligns with the intended audience that will be receiving it.
  2. Send your target group compelling messaging: Now that you have compiled your top 100 list, determine what avenues make the most sense for you to reach them.  Develop captivating and unique marketing materials that you can send their way.  Find ways where you can connect with them personally to share about your event.  The key is to convince folks they MUST be at your event.
  3. Tap into existing networks: Form partnerships with like-minded, non-competing organizations that have an existing network of engaged individuals that you would love to have at your event. Together work out a strategic, mutually beneficial plan to reach those individuals and entice them to attend your event. Provide partners with email templates or copy that they can easily distribute to their networks, saving them oodles of time. 
  4. Send unique invitations: Whatever happened to snail mail? Send out an eye-catching and clever invite that sets your event apart from all other events. Always include a call to action and a teaser of what can be expected on event day.
  5. Create incentive: Promise your attendees that they will be getting something out of your event. Time is money and your attendees will want to know what value is to be gained by attending your event. Provide (3) concise bullet points on why your event is worth attending in your outreach marketing material. 
  6. Build event momentum: Talk about your event a lot and share all the exciting things that will be happening at it. Highlight your speakers, share content teasers, and advertise giveaways. Use your social media outlets to reach your audience. Take advantage of targeted ads to boost your post engagements and make updates frequently to ensure you are at the forefront of your audience's mind. Encourage your in-house staff and early bird attendees to share the event information on their social media, thus increasing your reach. Ask your speakers if they wouldn't mind writing a short blog post to provide a sneak-peak into what they will be sharing. Make it clear that this is the event that is NOT to be missed!

Now it goes without saying that if you go through all this trouble to make sure your attendees show up, you better deliver.  Be innovative, be creative and be original. 

As always, if you’re feeling lost, I am here to help!

Contact me by phone: 617-840-5073 or email at anebons@blinkevents.net. Find me on LinkedIn , Facebook or at my website www.blinkevents.net.

Giving positive feedback gets powerful results

- Ying Sa is the founder and principal certified public accountant at Community CPA & Associates, Inc. and a co-founder of the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit. 

Any mother would be heartbroken if her 15-year-old son was called sexist at school by his teacher. It might happen without ever being reported to the parent by the child. This is particularly true if the kid's parents are uneducated or do not speak English. 

Labeling young kids with certain unwanted or derogatory terms is unethical and unprofessional. When an educator tells a young kid: you are sexist, or you are a bad influence on the team, or you are weird, it can be like a life sentence. The effect can be permanent. The power of labeling is like black magic; if care is not taken, the child will become the very thing you labeled them to be. 

I was not educated in the United States, so I don't know if derogatory terms are used regularly on students. I would be shocked to learn that it was.    

I was in China when I was 15, and in my high school, I had a math teacher called Ms. Huang. She had this quiet smile on her face and would never raise her voice at us no matter how naughty we were. At that time, I secretly struggled with math. I was kind of a tomboy and I felt that I had to be as good as these boys in math. I would cause drama in the math class that would lead to the boys getting in trouble.

I never made eye contact with Ms. Huang. I always wanted to stay away from her. One day, shortly after a math quiz, Ms. Huang called my name. Immediately, I started sweating profusely. I knew I was in trouble. She said softly: Ying, do you have the answer for me?" I quickly stood and darted my eyes around the room looking for help. The classroom was quiet and everyone was waiting for me to say something. I looked down to my feet and murmured: "Ms. Huang, I did not hear what you asked." In her usual calm voice, she said: "That is all right, Ying, let’s discuss that after the class".

I walked to her office and my legs were shaking. I could not even stand straight. I was very scared, thinking that she might have seen me peeping at Hua’s answers during the test.

In Ms. Huang’s office, students normally sat across the table from her so she could lecture them face-to-face. But she asked me to sit next to her on an empty bench, and without a word, she gently put her hand on my shoulder and said: "Ying, do you know you are very smart?" 

I looked up and shook my head without hesitation. I was not smart and I knew it. Someone told me that girls are never smart with math in high school. She continued "You actually can be very good at math but somehow you told yourself that you are not good at it." The only thing that came to my mind then was "When did I tell myself that?"

But she is right. I did tell myself that. I looked up and stared at the yellow-framed reading glasses on her face… that pair of glasses is imprinted in my memory even today. I love those kinds of frames and my reading glasses have always looked like those.

Ms. Huang held me tighter and said: "Can you stop telling yourself you are not good at math? I will be here for you whenever you need me. You can be a mathematician if you want to. Do you think you can prove to me that I am right?"

For a while, I visited her office often, I revisited all the areas of math that I did not like and later that year I won the Probability Math Contest in our school. As a kid I was just doing things to prove to Ms. Huang that she was right.

Ms. Huang changed my course of life by recognizing the good part of me. She could have labeled me in different terms – a cheater for copying from others, a sexist for creating issues with boys in class because they are better at math. She knew I was not perfect and she cared about me anyway. I loved her back by proving to her that I was worth her time and attention. Before I left China, I visited her at her home for the last time. She hugged me and said: "I always knew you would be wonderful."

Ms. Huang is the educator who lifted up a 15-year-old and put her on the right path to grow. Thirty years later, I finally can adequately articulate her impact on my life. It became apparent to me especially when I came to know kids being labeled this way in our system.

I am fortunate that someone labeled me in such positive way when I was in the stage of learning myself. Give children time to learn about themselves and do not label them so quickly and so irresponsibly.

Be like Ms. Huang.


What are the must-have features for my website?

- Alex Karei, marketing director for Webspec Design, blogs about web strategy.

For such an easy question, there must be an easy answer, right?

  1. About Page
  2. Staff Gallery
  3. Shopping Cart

Wait … you don’t sell your product online? Okay, then:

  1. About Page
  2. Staff Gallery
  3. Contact Form

Oh, shoot - you have a team of two people. Maybe a Staff Gallery doesn’t make sense anymore?

Round, and round, and round we go. The truth is, “what are the must-have features” really isn’t the right question to ask. The content on your website is heavily reliant on two things: one, the audience, and two, the goals you have for your website. So in essence, the “must have features” are going to be influenced by the answers to two questions.

Who’s your target audience?

You must take your audience into consideration when you develop your website; if not, you might be providing content written for the wrong people. Even worse, you might be providing the wrong content entirely. In an ideal world, you will know basic demographic information and the goals of your target audience. Then, you can deliver the content they want to see, how they want to see it.

Think of it this way. If you have a website about a summer camp for elementary school children - and you write it to that audience, you're missing out. Why? Because the parent is the one that is making that purchasing decision. They want to know different things than the child would want to know, and the reading level will be quite different. 

What are your website goals?

I’m not talking about the overall traffic you want to see. Everyone wants people to get to their website. What I want to know is, when people arrive, what would you like them to do?

If you can’t think of anything, think of it this way: why do you have a website in the first place? Examples of potential goals would be lead generation (this could be forms completed), purchases made, or event registrations. It might even be the knowledge that your users are getting three or four pages deep into your site, if you're providing purely educational content. Are they working their way through your content, or dropping off of the home page?

Once you have the answers to these two questions, you’ll be well on your way to identifying the “must have” features for your website. Those features will serve a greater purpose because they are there for a reason. And, hopefully, they will help your business or organization grow as a result.

Alex Karei_124Alex is the marketing director for Webspec Design, a website design and development and digital marketing agency in Urbandale. Connect with her on:

Email: alex@webspecdesign.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/alextriesitout
Instagram: www.instagram.com/alextriesitout
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/alexandriakarei

A tale of two clients

Brainstorming- Tom Vander Well, executive vice president of c wenger group, is a recognized customer service authority in the contact center industry.

Our group recently did a small, focused survey of customers for one business unit of a larger local company. The results revealed impressive levels of satisfaction with our client's service.

There were, nevertheless, a few key areas of opportunity unearthed by the data. I was sure that the client would be eager to tout the good results within their organization, but I was impressed to see that the client's first action was to organize a brainstorming session to figure out how they could improve. In the session they included team members, key players from the larger corporation, and a few customers themselves. It was truly the spirit of continuous improvement. They were happy to tout the good results, but they were more concerned with leveraging the data to push customer satisfaction even higher.

Contrast this story with another client company we worked with some time ago. A survey of their customers revealed good (but not great) levels of satisfaction with some glaring areas of dissatisfaction. Our subsequent assessment of calls between sales agents and customers revealed clear examples of exactly why customers were dissatisfied. The data provided our client with a very clear and detailed blueprint for turning things around. Some targeted training and coaching in specific sales and service skills would address areas of customer dissatisfaction and lead to improved performance, sales, and CSAT. The client, however, received the data with immediate denial ("this can't be right"), then embarrassment ("this is going to make me look bad"), and finally rejection as they buried the report which was never presented to anyone else in the organization.

One of the things I love most about my job is the opportunity to work with many different companies in different markets and industries. I have learned so many great lessons about life and business simply from observing clients on a daily basis. I have come to learn that the most successful companies not only pay lip service to continuous improvement but also exemplify it in the way they operate each and every day. By contrast, I've learned that many companies operate far below their ultimate potential because of an internal culture of fear. I've also observed that both of these contrasting corporate cultures seem representative of the attitudes that flow directly from the executive suite (but, that's another blog post for another day).

Why not make 2016 the year you do something with that data, customer feedback, survey results, and/or QA report? Numbers in a binder on the shelf, on your hard drive archive, or in the trash will profit you little. Leverage them, use them, and do something positive to move the needle on sales, service, and satisfaction!

Social customer service matters

- Katie Patterson is the CEO | Founder at Happy Medium.

Social media is often blamed for the end of interpersonal relationships. It’s too easy for us to stay online and away from each other. I was not particularly shocked to read about a study that found that regardless of how many Facebook “friends” you have, you can only really rely on 4 actual friends during tough times. When friendship is boiled down to clicking on a request, and some people can’t even be bothered to do that, what does that mean for the state of friendship?

At Happy Medium, we tend to be optimists. Yes, social media has the capacity to separate us from each other but it also has the ability to create more meaningful connections and the smart brands using social understand this.

An interesting post came across my Facebook feed a few days ago. A friend (both online and IRL) posted that she received a call from the surgeon who was going to operate on her knee, asking if she had any questions or concerns. She was impressed that the surgeon himself, not a staff member, took the time to call and make sure she was feeling confident about her upcoming operation.

That’s good customer service. And, because we live in a world where we don’t expect that, not only did the surgeon impress his patient, he probably impressed a number of people who saw my friend’s genuine post. So now, because of social media, that good deed committed by the doctor becomes a walking billboard for his brand of compassion and care. That’s a prescription any business could use.

As individuals, we may only have four friends we can count on, but businesses have to count on a lot more to feed their bottom line so they can ill-afford to mistreat their online acquaintances. And yet, time and again, brands forget basic customer service when it comes to social. 80% of the top 500 retailers ignore questions sent to them via Twitter and only a little more than half respond on Facebook. And the average response is longer than a day. Try sending my company a request that might turn into money and see if you don’t hear from us for a full day. If that happens, it’s the zombie apocalypse and you should find a place to hole up for awhile.

The story about my friend’s surgery proves that social media can be a tool in an overall customer service strategy. I’ll bet that surgeon didn’t call my friend expecting a laudatory Facebook post but he understands that good customer services results in happy customers and happy customers are apt to share their happiness. And just as you wouldn’t ignore a customer who called you on the phone or walked into your shop, you can’t simply avoid conversations online.

Luckily, just as platforms are making it easier to buy products through social, they are making it easier for brands to interact with their customers.

Facebook has launched a beta version of Messenger Business, a modification of their popular Messenger app (800 million users and counting) that allows real-time conversations between customers and businesses.

Twitter has dropped its “mutual follow” rule for direct messages, meaning that brands can reach out to customers directly, even if they don’t follow each other. And those direct messages don’t come with a character limit. We’ll see if brands use these new tools to improve their miserable online customer service numbers but for now, there’s a tremendous opportunity to be ahead of your competitors.

And who knows, when you do something good in real life, you might just find an extra bump for yourself online. People don’t always value their online friends, but brands can’t afford not to.

Katie Patterson is the CEO | Founder of Happy Medium, a full service interactive advertising agency based in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter - @_klpatterson

Hungry for a little innovation?

- Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Innovation is critical to growing our businesses and our economy.  You can't market something if it doesn't solve a problem or meet a need.  And if what you sell is a commodity and lacks innovation -- all you can do is sell on price.

Innovation is so vital to our future that the White House created/updated the Strategy for American Innovation calling for and working towards making our entire country more innovative.

All of that is dandy -- but how do local business owners and leaders infuse innovation into their organizations?  

As we've seen over the past few weeks with the Iowa Caucuses, living in Central Iowa comes with some unique opportunities. Fortunately -- there's one coming up that I think should be on everyone's radar screen.

ciWeek/Celebrate! Innovation™ Week is Feb. 29 – March 4 and provides students and Central Iowans an opportunity to engage with people (some famous, all inspired) who have dreamed, created and accomplished.  It's absolutely free, thanks to the sponsors and is an amazing collection of speakers, experts and innovators. (Check out the presenters here)


It’s a thought-provoking and interactive week hosted each year at DMACC’s West Des Moines Campus, where students of all ages listen, absorb and engage. It’s a local cross between TED Talks and the famous SXSW event held each year in Austin, Texas.

Previous ciWeek presenters have included:
• Two of the 12 men who walked on the moon
• The man considered the father of the personal computer
• Television personalities who focus on science, invention and ideas
• Explorers who have been to the depths of the ocean and the highest mountain peaks
• Engineers developing the growing commercial space industry
• Inventors of incredible animatronics and robotics
• Academy Award-winning visual effects creators and animators

The week-long event focuses on inspiration, which is the drive behind creativity. We see how inspiration impacted the lives of these speakers and how it compelled them to greatness. Their stories are fascinating and have application to all.

Check out the website and see how you and your organization can take advantage of this Central Iowa gem and infuse a little innovation into your organization.

Travel, business, leadership, life: What's your quest?

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a certified executive & leadership coach, president of MAP Professional Development Inc., and leader of the ASPIRE Success Club.

I can't imagine a better time to write about The Happiness of Pursuit than early in a new year. If you want to think bigger and challenge yourself in a meaningful way, the examples, ideas, and inspiration found in Chris Guillebeau's latest book will prompt you into action. 

Happiness of Pursuit book - GuillebeauThis book focuses on one thing: quests. Not just traditional goals or good ideas, but epic projects that require focus and purposeful intensity in order to fulfill them. Rather extraordinary in scope and often several years in duration, I relate them to what Jim Collins and Jerry Porras refer to in their book Built To Last as BHAGs - Big Hairy Audacious Goals - that can be established in any area of work, leadership, or life.

The quest begins with a dream because, as Guillebeau writes in the prologue, "If you want to achieve the unimaginable, you start by imagining it." The quest presents a challenge, requires sacrifice, and leaves you a better person than when you started. The adventure changes you and brings meaning and fulfillment along the way.

Guillebeau begins by explaining his own quest: to visit all 193 countries before turning 35. He shares his experience throughout much of the book as well as highlighting others' inspiring quests, such as:

  • Circumnavigate the globe, solo, in a small sailboat.
  • Take, process, and edit one million photos.
  • Produce the world's largest symphony.
  • Refrain from talking for a period of time (which turned out to be 17 years).
  • Read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica in one year.
  • Give $10/day, every day for a year, to a different charity.

That's just for starters.

Big. Bold. Time- and energy-consuming. Perhaps a little nuts, right? Guillebeau does a nice job addressing all of these components in the book. He emphasizes how your quest must come from the heart; it isn't about impressing others, and in fact others may question, or even poke fun at, your quest. "Not everyone needs to believe in your dream," Guillebeau wisely states, "but you do."

I read with particular appreciation his ideas around fear. I have found in my coaching practice that many people hesitate to dream big or set bold goals because of fear - often the fear of not achieving them. I continually emphasize it's not as much about achieving the goal, quest, or dream as it is about who you become in the process: What you learn, how you grow, the transformation you experience. Guillebeau adds, "You deal with fear not by pretending it doesn't exist, but by refusing to give it decision-making authority."

Your quest may come from a variety of sources: the idea floating around since childhood, the more recent thought that just will not let go, the thing that breaks your heart. Oftentimes, your quest will essentially find you rather than the other way around; you'll know it when it strikes. And it will certainly evolve as you go.

This book is a particularly good read if you are:

  • in a rut and need a burst of inspiration;
  • ready to think bigger and bolder;
  • feeling an inkling for "something more;" or 
  • need a kick in the pants of any sort!

To be fair, I live in this space of big dreams and bold goals that Guillebeau writes about, so I am a bit biased. I believe everyone can benefit from creating some of these big, exciting projects in their work and life. They provide a sense of ongoing excitement and unusual focus. They allow you to get jazzed about something in the future while savoring and acting in the present moment. They help you prove to yourself that you are capable of what you set out to do.

On top of that, little compares to the feeling that comes with embarking on a significant, thrilling, not-fully-certain challenge - and achieving it.

Christi Hegstad MAP Inc HeadshotCOACH CHRISTI'S CHALLENGE:

Whether or not you feel ready to take on a quest just yet, there's one activity sure to get your creative-dreamer juices flowing: Start your Life List (a.k.a., bucket list). What would you LOVE to do, try, experience, see, or create if time and money were in unlimited supply? Personally and professionally, solo and with others, self-focused and other-focused...what comes to mind (and more importantly, to heart)? 

Start writing those ideas down. Not in to-do list fashion, just as a fun Life List that you can add to whenever an idea arises. I have currently challenged the ASPIRE Success Club members to come up with 101 items for their lists, and I encourage you to do the same. Not only will this spark your creativity and open your sense of possibility, it will provide clues to your passions and purpose as well.

And who knows? You might just decide to turn one of those ideas into your next quest!

Dr. Christi Hegstad coaches leaders, executives, and meaningful achievers to succeed and make a difference in work they love! Learn more at www.meaning-and-purpose.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan, and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach.

Guillebeau, Chris. The Happiness Of Pursuit. Harmony, 2014. 

Iowa's next economic frontier

 - Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa's Cultivation Corridor.

Fifty thousand jobs.

That’s what is projected to be created nationally in the biorenewable chemicals industry within the next five years, BiochemFullReport_title_pageaccording to “Bio-Based Chemicals: The Iowa Opportunity”, a new report commissioned by the Cultivation Corridor with support from the Iowa Biotechnology Association released earlier this month.  What’s more, the paper argues a significant segment of those jobs could be created right here in Iowa. But they don’t have to be.   Back to that in a minute.

The paper was researched and written by Dr. Dermot Hayes, the Pioneer Hi-Bred International Chair in Agribusiness, professor of economics and professor of finance at Iowa State University; Dr. Brent Shanks, an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering and the Steffenson Chair in Chemical and Biological Engineering at ISU; and Dr. Jill Euken, deputy director of the Bioeconomy Institute at ISU.

The report’s findings are striking.  Thanks to the rich supply of Iowa biomass suitable as feedstock for biorenewable chemical production, access to a foundational network of over 50 ethanol and biodiesel production facilities across the state, and nascent biorenewable chemical investment opportunities before us today, Iowa is better-positioned than most domestic competitors to capitalize on the next frontier of bioprocessing in the United States.

Despite Iowa’s obviously discernable advantages in the budding biochem space, however, the Hayes report suggests that the absence of a statewide economic development incentive tailored to address the unique needs of this budding industry stands as a serious impediment to the state’s potential to emerge as a center of gravity for biorenewable chemical investment and job creation in the coming years. The report reminds that the last bioeconomic boom Iowa saw- that of the ethanol industry - did not have to happen here and suggests that it was targeted state incentives which are directly attributable to the decision to choose Iowa over other Midwest states by more than one-third of the ethanol industry. The same dynamic, the report suggests, exists today relative to the biorenewable chemical industry. 

About nine months ago, I blogged about the tremendous opportunity seen in a coming transition from petroleum-based feedstocks to bio-based feedstocks for some of the world’s highest-value chemicals [Why Iowa needs to think like an oil company; May 27, 2015] and how important it was that Iowa leverage its virtually unmatched domestic competitive position to become the destination of choice for biochemical investment in the same way we became the preferred choice for biofuels investment.  I wrote the piece as the Iowa Legislature was debating a proposal to create an economic development tax credit to help entice the industry to choose Iowa, just as we did as a state more than a decade ago to entice biofuels investment. The measure failed [for a quick analysis of what happened, click here and scroll halfway down].

Part of the urgency I suggested we had as a state in 2015 to be a first mover was the fact that other states had begun talking about creating their own biorenewable chemical economic development legislation, and it behooved Iowa to be the first. With the legislature’s failure to act in 2015, the first mover window closed; Minnesota passed the nation’s first biochem legislation last year. Despite that, the 86th Iowa General Assembly has an opportunity before it in 2016 to enact what would be the country’s strongest economic development incentive to help grow the biorenewable chemical industry here, where it belongs.

What’s different this year than last? Thanks to the Hayes report, we’ve got the data to support the assertion that the biochemical industry holds exceptional promise for job creation in our state, much as the biofuels industry did and continues to do.  Among the report’s findings:

  • First-generation biofuels have been important economic drivers for the state of Iowa. Ethanol production alone in Iowa accounts for $2.23 billion per year in state GDP and supports more than 8,693 jobs. However, due to a new Renewable Fuel Standard which rolls back ethanol blend requirements to pre-2007 levels and ongoing feedstock limitations for biodiesel, alternative value-added bioproducts are critical to the future growth of the biomanufacturing industry in Iowa. 
  • Project opportunity exists today. At least five potential bio-based chemical production projects were identified through an industry interview process to as part of the report.  Representatives of each project indicated a biorenewable chemical production tax credit would be fundamental to the ultimate location decision in or outside Iowa.
  • Iowa has competitive advantages in several subfields of the emerging biorenewable chemicals industry. This advantage arises from
    • The availability of byproducts such as glycerin and distillers oils from first-generation biofuels facilities
    • The existence of several underutilized wet mills in Iowa, or close to Iowa
    • The fact that first-generation biofuels can themselves be upgraded into higher valued chemicals.
  • Iowa’s research and technological infrastructure in biorenewable chemicals and materials is second to none. The National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) led by ISU is the only competitively awarded federal research center solely dedicated to the development of biobased chemicals. Key capital infrastructure needed for biobased chemical development exists at ISU through the BioCentury Research Farm and the Bioeconomy Institute and the University of Iowa through the Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing (CBB). The collective capabilities of these entities for enabling biobased chemicals exceeds those available in any other states.
  • The global petrochemical industry developed in clusters of close proximity to feedstock sources: oil refineries. The bio-based chemicals industry will develop in a similar manner - the economics of agglomeration suggests that industrial biomanufacturing clusters will develop from established biomanufacturing sites rather than from new green field sites. Iowa has more deployed biomanufacturing capital assets than any other state. 

What now, you say?  Read the report [or at least the executive summary]. Contact your legislator. Let him or her know how important it is that we not let another year go by without enacting the biorenewable chemical tax credit.

Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa's Cultivation Corridor.  Contact him:

Human: 515-360-1732

Digital: bwillett@cultivationcorridor.org / @brent_willett / LinkedIn.com/in/brentwillett

Tax credits for a few vs. business deductions for everyone


-Joe Kristan is a founding member of Roth & Company P.C

Every targeted tax break is a choice to favor one business or economic activity over another. Most years, that choice is hidden in the budget process. Not this time.

This year the General Assembly can choose between two tax policy approaches. The choices:

  1. A provision to allow all profitable businesses in the state to deduct currently their costs of purchasing machinery and equipment, up to a generous limit -- one identical to a provision in the federal tax law. It is used widely by farmers and small businesses, benefiting thousands of filers.
  1. A series of provisions -- some new, but most at least a few years old -- that provide tax credits to selected businesses and industries who convince the General Assembly that they deserve special treatment - and regardless of whether they actually have taxes to pay.

As things stand now, the Iowa General Assembly seems likely to choose the second option. And that says a lot about how poorly the Iowa business income tax system treats smaller businesses.

Option 1 is the "Section 179 deduction." The federal tax bill, passed in December, makes permanent the $500,000 annual limit on the deduction, which allows taxpayers to take a current deduction in the year machinery and equipment is first used; otherwise, the deduction is spread over a period of years through depreciation deductions. This limit has been at $500,000 for several years on a temporary basis, and Iowa has allowed the same deduction since 2010.

The $500,000 limit has been popular. It is available regardless of whether your business is bio-chemical, renewable fuels, films, or another economic development flavor-of-the-month. It’s simple to administer – you just use the number you claim on your federal return.

Governor Branstad recently told Iowa business leaders that the state can't afford to renew the $500,000 amount. Instead, the deduction will be limited to $25,000 per year in 2015 and future years. This tax increase could net the state somewhere around $90 million in additional revenue in any given year. Because it is a matter of timing, it is close to revenue neutral over a five-year period.

Option 2 is to expend the millions of dollars of tax credits in the budget targeted to promote specific industries, lure businesses, or favor certain investments. For example, the budget includes a new credit for "Renewable Bio-Chemical production." While the number of taxpayers who would receive this credit is unknown, it's safe to say that it is a tiny fraction of those who benefit from the $500,000 Section 179 limit. It's possible that fewer than 100 Iowa businesses will qualify for the new credit.

The budget also continues to fund a refundable research credit, which operates as a $40 million cash grant program to some of Iowa's largest businesses. It funds another $37.4 million renewable fuel and bio-fuel credits, and $20.1 million in sales tax refunds to big businesses lured to Iowa by the economic development bureau. Altogether, the budget provides around $277 million in tax credits to lure new businesses or to subsidize business behavior the state has deemed worthy of special favors. These credits are permanent; they generate no offsetting revenue in future years.

Might these special favors be better for the economy than some farmer or small business who buys a new tractor or machine? You could make that case, but it would be plausible only if these favors were enacted by a process where the state looked at the vast menu of possible industries to support and carefully evaluated which ones were more persuasive. That never happens. Instead, the credits follow the path of the notorious Iowa film industry credits, where an industry gets some legislators and business boosters excited and builds support -- sometimes with "studies" funded by booster groups. There is no evaluation of the opportunity costs, of whether the funds would be better used elsewhere.

Boosters of these favors will remind us of what wonderful employers the recipients of these special favors are. While that may be true, the employers in every county who stand to lose their Section 179 deduction are wonderful too -- and in this budget, they (and their employees, suppliers and customers) pay for the special favors. They may not feel that they're less important than the industries favored with tax credits. There are a lot more of them. Whether their numbers will enable them to prevent having their taxes increased remains to be seen.

Joe Kristan wrote this piece. He speaks only for himself, not for his firm, colleagues or clients.

A guide to planning successful events: Conclusion

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- Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC.

Last time we talked about all the logistics that go into making our event great and now we are ready to see it come to life. (If you missed them, check out, parts 1, 2, and 3 of this guide.)

Phase 4: EVENT PRODUCTION: “I am ready to make my Apple Pie!” 

This is your time to shine; where all your hard work is brought to light! Your goal here is to deliver a flawless event from the eyes of the attendee. There will always be things that come up that you did not plan for during the event itself; that’s the nature of the beast. The best way to avoid the stresses that come along with these minor glitches is to delegate the event production work to a hired professional. They are experienced in this realm and know how to address the unexpected. Your event planner often can double as your producer or depending on the complexity of your program, you might decide to hire a more specific type of event producer. Whoever you choose, the choice to invest in this individual is worth its weight in gold. Your job is to celebrate the hard work you have done putting this event together by enjoying the event stress-free.  

If you decide you would rather keep the event production work in-house, choose an individual who is level-headed, resourceful and great under pressure. Establish this person as the boss of the event early on, so everyone knows whom to report to on event day matters. Always ensure this person is over-informed on all changes that are made. They should be the eyes and ears of the event at all times.

Phase 5: ROI MEASURMENT:  “How did everyone like my Apple Pie?” 

After the event concludes, this is your chance to analyze the strategy you developed during Phase 3.  Generally ROI is something that will be measured over the long-term, but there can be a lot of useful data generated before, during and after the event that will help you to gauge the overall reception.

Social media & Surveying: Take the conversations that have been created and analyze them to determine what your attendees responded to the most. This data will help you to create valuable follow-ups to your attendees and will inform you on what your customers are wanting to see more of. Use this data to organically focus the direction of your marketing strategy. 

Surveys can be somewhat archaic and the response can often be spotty, it is still advised that you take the time to distribute them. Any information you do receive back will be useful in gauging attendee reception.

Analytics: There are many tools that can be put into place that will provide you with detailed analytics on how your event was received. Employing these devices might make a lot of sense for some events but little sense for others.  It will be during Phase 3 of planning where you determine what will work for you event.

This concludes our four-part series on planning a successful event!  Please let me know if there are any burning questions that need to be addressed!  

Next time we talk about one of the biggest fears when it comes to event planning: The Fear that NO ONE WILL COME!  We will discuss different ways to ensure your event doesn't flop!

Until then reach out with any questions!

Contact me by phone: 617-840-5073 or email at anebons@blinkevents.net. Find me on LinkedIn , Facebook or at my website www.blinkevents.net.

Bonanza for local governments or savings for taxpayers?

- Gretchen Tegeler is president of the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa

Local governments in central Iowa are putting together their budgets for the upcoming year that begins July 1, 2016. This is known as fiscal year (FY) 2017.

While they’ve been gradually improving, times have been tight for local governments since about 2012, when the 2009 real estate market collapse began to play out on local budgets. Property taxes are based on property valuations, so some local governments actually had to make do with little or no revenue growth in their budgets for these past several years. Costs marched on unabated (or increased in some cases, as for public pensions), so there was stress to make budgets balance.

This year, the story is entirely different. Taxable valuations (upon which the property tax rate is applied to generate property tax revenue) are up substantially for most local governments, and a constant tax rate will therefore yield huge increases in revenue. This means there is opportunity for reduction in rates. (Notes: Schools' rates are largely set through a state formula, so their situation is different.)

Our association is always urging citizens to look at the property revenue generated, not the property tax rate, to see how much money their local government is actually collecting. If ever there was a year to be clear about the distinction, this is it!

Consider the increase in property tax revenue that would be generated in the following selected jurisdictions, just from a flat rate, at a time when inflation is projected to be less than one percent:

Increase in 2015 Taxable Valuation, by Government Entity
For FY 2016-17 Budgets

Polk County


Dallas County






City of Ankeny


City of Des Moines


City of Waukee


City of West Des Moines


These are also the percentage increases that taxpayers will be seeing on their property tax bills next September and in March 2017 if downward adjustments in rates are not made.

Local governments have a choice to make. They can build the growth into their budgets and substantially increase their spending, or they can set a more modest spending goal, return some money to taxpayers, and perhaps set a more stable course for the future. The circumstances of each entity are different, but citizens should be asking their local officials what they plan to do, and why, before budgets are finalized on March 15th.

Cyber insurance advice

Dave Nelson, CISSP is president and CEO of Integrity. 

 Cyber insurance

Let’s start 2016 off with a bit of advice for any company or non-profit organization who uses technology.  You should purchase cyber insurance this year. In today’s world of high profile cyberattacks, a few things have become crystal clear.  irst, it’s not if you will suffer a cyberattack, it’s when. Second, data breaches occur at companies of any size and in any industry. And finally, no matter how much you spend on information security a breach will be costly.

Just as when purchasing insurance to protect any other asset, it’s a part of a risk mitigation strategy. You can’t simply buy insurance and take no other precautions. Insurance is designed to limit your exposure to loss after a series of other steps have been taken. 

The question is, what kind of cyber insurance is right for you? Let’s look at some of the coverage options available today.  Every carrier is different and these policies are nowhere near standardized like general liability, auto, life, or home policies. Each carrier may call their coverage something different but you need to understand what is covered and what is not.

Network Security

This type of policy typically will cover the costs associated with the downtime and clean up from network security issues such as a virus outbreak. You need to read carefully because this may not cover actual hacking attacks.

Incident Response

This policy will cover the costs for a security expert to lead the effort to assess the data breach, coordinate the reaction plans, document remediation, and work with law enforcement on your behalf or interface with regulatory agencies. Having an expert lead incident response usually results in quicker resolution. They often provide a more complete assessment of the true cause of the breach, can help suggest remediation actions, and provide counsel during and after the incident.

Digital Forensics

Knowing you suffered a breach is one thing.  Discovering how it happened, the depth and breadth of the breach, or discovering other existing breach points is another thing.  Digital forensic coverage will cover the costs to fully investigate the incident and discover any additional threat actors in your environment.

Remediation Efforts

Some policies will only cover the costs to stop the active breach.  While that certainly helps, it doesn’t mean that same attack vector will not be used in the future.  A policy that covers at least a portion of the costs to fix the problem can be helpful.

Breach Notification

Notifying clients that a breach has occurred is required by state breach notification laws, HIPAA and many international laws. This type of coverage will pay for the costs associated with identifying the affected parties and notification of the victims according to any regulatory requirements.

Credit Monitoring

Providing credit monitoring or other post-breach assistance to victims is often a common way to buy goodwill with your affected customers. This policy will cover these costs.

Legal Defense

Many data breaches end up in some form of litigation. Either between you and a vendor, you and a client, you and a regulatory body, or you and just about anyone. Policies vary on how and to what extent the insurance carrier will defend you in litigation. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of cyber liability insurance. This is still a relatively new field and due to significant losses to insurance carriers, they are scrambling to create policy limits and exclusions to limit their losses.  Most general liability policies now explicitly exclude any coverage for network and information security related issues, thereby forcing you to purchase coverage for this inevitable loss.

It’s imperative that you discuss cyber insurance with a broker who is well versed and specializes in cyber coverage. A vast majority of the brokers today are inexperienced in dealing with cyber insurance due to its relative newness in the marketplace and the ever changing products offered by carriers.

One last word on why you should buy cyber insurance. You may have the staff and expertise to deal with a data breach internally, but the time spent by your internal resources responding to a breach is not covered by insurance.  Your team is taken away from their daily jobs to address the breach, leaving other important tasks on the back burner for days, maybe even weeks.  Cyber liability insurance typically only covers the costs for external parties to address the breach. It is important to ask yourself if having insurance that covers the cost of external help will outweigh the costs of internal resources being pulled away to handle the incident.

Dave Nelson is president and CEO of Integrity. Dave Nelson 2015 IowaBiz Blog

Email: dave.nelson@integritysrc.com

Twitter: @integritySRC | @integrityCEO

Website: integritysrc.com

A culture of entitlement

Female with papersRank can be consciously or unconsciously assigned. Take a look at the law of the pack. Take a look at dogs. 

Buster comes to his new home from the Humane Society. He is automatically programmed to either relate to his owners as parents or siblings. What do his owners do? They gush over him and talk to him in a high-pitched voice that sounds to Buster more like a sibling than someone responsible for him. When he gets excited, they allow him to jump, charge through doors, drag them down the street or claim privileges of higher rank. His position is set. He is in control. Buster outranks his owners.

What does this tell us about how leaders should indoctrinate new employees to their new environment?

Organizational Culture

One of the greatest challenges faced by organizations is providing a work environment and benefits that attract the best employees yet still create an expectation for what it is they want the person to do without fostering a culture of entitlement.

Leaders in organizations never intend to communicate that the comfort and personal equity of the employee takes priority over what it was they are tasked to do. Yet, what does the interview candidate or new employee think when the tour includes a visit to a state-of-the-art fitness facility, no formal dress code, game rooms, compensated meals, convenient flex hours, and optional educational programs. Add to this the promise of lavish bonuses when the company is profitable, regardless of individual contributions. 

Is there a problem with companies seeking to create a state-of-the-art workplace and exemplary employee benefits? 

No. The problem lies in the incomplete communication. There are many examples of organizations who offer their employees a unique and upscale work experience. Zappos and Disney are two examples. What they communicate, and many organizations fail to, are the expectations of the employees. 

New Employee Orientation

Zappos provides a unique organizational culture that appeals to many individuals. They also spend several weeks in new employee orientation educating the new employee on the organization’s goals and the expectations of each employee. They are famous for “the offer”, which is a $3,000 take it or leave it offer to leave the organization after the company has outlined the expectations. Employees have the opportunity to publicly affirm that they are signing onto the expectations or they are walking.

Disney has a similarly intensive new employee orientation program that not only covers the many benefits of working for this prestigious organization but also describes the hardships employees encounter such as unattractive shifts, strict dress code and the requirement to be pleasant in every situation – even when you don’t feel like it.

In their attempt to sell the benefits of the company, organizations often fail to put performance expectations at the forefront and help the employee see that the many benefits are in exchange for top performance.

Like the new dog owner, the intentions of the organization are good. They are setting out to create a wonderful experience for the new employee in their new environment in the hopes that performance will follow. Instead, entitlement is the result.

What was the employee to think when this is the focus of the first day walk-through. We know how Buster responded. How is the new employee going to respond?

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

For more professional development content:Rowena_Outside

Website: www.tero.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/TeroInternational

Twitter: @TeroTrainers

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