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December 2016

About willpower

Jann Freed is a leadership development and change management consultant at The Genysys Group.

Have you ever said to yourself: I wish I had more self-control or willpower? Life is complicated and presents us with many temptations. Having more control over how we make decisions regarding relationships, health and financial security would likely improve the quality of our life. Research shows the two personal qualities that are said to predict “positive outcomes” in life consistently tend to be intelligence and self-control. While intelligence or IQ is hard to increase, researchers have discovered how to improve self-control. In their book "Willpower: Discovering the Greatest Human Strength," Roy Baumeister and John Tierney share research that supports improving willpower "is the surest way to a better life.”

Much is written about the value of the mindfulness movement (being present, paying attention, being focused) in leadership and business and medical arenas. Google, Target, General Mills and Intel are a few of the companies that have had mindfulness programs for several years. Based on mindfulness research, managers are realizing that allowing time for reflection, creativity and resilience has a positive impact on employees through stress reduction that results in improved productivity.

However, people forget about willpower, and this is probably the most underutilized human talent. Based on research by Baumeister and Tierney, willpower is something that can be actively trained, harvested and used in whatever direction we choose. Their research concluded:

  • We have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as we use it.
  • We use the same stock of willpower for all manners of tasks (work, diet, exercise, attitude).

In fact, Baumeister and Tierney divide the uses of willpower into four broad categories: control of thoughts, control of emotions, impulse control, and performance control or focusing energy on the task at hand. One way to build willpower is the use of “bright lines.” These are rules that are clear, simple and nonnegotiable. You know when you have crossed a bright line. “Once you’ve committed to following a bright line rule, your present self can feel confident that your future self will observe it, too. … Your belief becomes a form of self-control: a self-fulfilling mandate. I think I won’t, therefore I don’t.” This is a way to develop discipline in making decisions in life and in work. Life is complicated, and following these rules can simplify your life. Ironically, the more we follow bright line rules, the less energy it takes and the more willpower we have to use in other ways.

26938Most people think that change happens gradually in life, but change does not happen gradually. You build up momentum to make a change that happens in a moment. You gather enough energy and evidence to support making that change. The actual change itself is instantaneous.  

I discovered that the awareness of mindfulness helped me build willpower as a tool that is transforming my life. From my research, I learned the value of having a practice that quiets the mind at the same time that it builds strength, enables flexibility and works on balance. Since my book was published in 2013 ("Leading With Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts"), I have been committed to practicing yoga six times a week. While I have learned many things from my instructor, James Miller, it is his willpower I find most inspiring.  

Miller created Adamantine Yoga™, in which the books "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience," written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and "Willpower" are the psychology and foundation behind his approach. “While 'Flow' is about optimal experience, 'Willpower' taught me the philosophy to empower people to activate the psychology of optimal experience.” Miller often reminds me that “every moment we have the power to make a decision — choice. We can go one way or another.”

I realized my yoga practice would improve if I lost weight, and this has never been easy for me to do. But being mindful of what I was eating by paying attention was worth it. Miller recommended The Whole 30 Program based on “bright line rules.” Cut out grains, dairy, legumes and sugar for 30 days as a way to push the “reset” button for the body to determine how various foods are having an impact. I completed this program, achieved my goal and realized the power of willpower by following clear rules. It took less energy to make healthy dietary decisions.

When we have a stressful day and are committed to eating and drinking in a certain way, it is harder to use our willpower to make the right decisions. While we know this intuitively, now there is research to support this. People who use bright line rules to help guide their lives use less willpower in doing so. When willpower is depleted, frustrations and stress increase, which have negative consequences on personal decisions and relationships.  

It is easy to think that some people naturally have more self-control than others. But now we know everyone can improve their willpower in order to improve their quality of life. Additionally, one of the most interesting research findings in "Willpower" is this: “People with stronger willpower are more altruistic. They’re more likely to donate to charity, to do volunteer work and to offer their own homes as shelter to someone with no place to go. … Inner discipline still leads to outer kindness.”

Lessons from elevator school

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

Do you remember what you learned in elevator school? Interview_man 

Let me refresh your memory. When you are waiting for the elevator to arrive, it is permissible to talk. When the elevator arrives, you board the elevator, push the button for your floor, go to the back of the elevator (corner, if available), look up and silently watch the floor numbers.

Everyone knows that the only time it is permissible to talk on an elevator is when there are only two people or if they love each other a lot.

How do you feel about someone who boards the elevator, faces you, and talks? Uncomfortable! Clearly, they have not been to elevator school.

You’re standing too close to me

We protect a personal distance around us of 18 inches. We don’t allow anyone in that space unless we love them a lot or we’re going to hit them. This space is violated on an elevator, and that’s why we don’t talk. It is also the reason a handshake is an excellent method of greeting someone. It allows us to make a human connection while preserving personal space.

How is this relevant to your leadership?

It is amazing how many leaders set up their meeting rooms oblivious to the personal space requirements of others. Individuals who are crammed into a room are challenged to interact. They may even find it difficult to concentrate on the topic at hand. By simply providing everyone with personal space, you are also providing them with think space that allows them to interact more openly and freely.

Try this with friends

The next time you are in a restaurant, observe how the room is set up. We are provided with about 18 inches of table space for our stuff – plate, flatware, napkin, water glass. In the center of the table is the community space. This is for the community stuff – salt, pepper, bottle of wine. 

Have fun the next time you are out for dinner, and mess with the community stuff. Put the bottle of wine in your personal space and watch the reaction of your dining companions. Or, crowd a member of the dinner party with the community stuff (put the salt and pepper or mashed potatoes in their personal space). This is a great way to carry out your own research in human behavior and discover how sensitive we are to personal space. 

Meeting environment tips

The next time you are leading a meeting, give some thought to room set-up. Ensure everyone has at least 18 inches of personal space on each side of them. 

Where should people be seated? Eye contact is the driver in seating selection. Research reveals that the person you are most likely to argue with in a meeting is the one sitting across the table from you. That is direct eye contact, and it is the harshest form of eye contact.   

The person you are least likely to argue with in is the one sitting next to you. It is difficult to argue with someone in your personal space that you can’t easily get eye contact with. 

The ideal seating for a collaborative discussion is a 90-degree angle. This is a softer form of eye contact. 

Other things that contribute to a challenging meeting environment include:

  • Differences in chair height (the person in the highest chair has the highest eye contact advantage and has greater perceived power).
  • Doors and windows to someone’s back create an unconscious sense of threat.
  • Bright lights in eyes are challenging.
  • Cold or overly warm rooms hinder productivity in meetings.

When you are preparing to lead your next meeting, give some thought to the meeting environment in addition to crafting your meeting agenda.

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Starting and growing your own business

Michelle DeClerck is president of Conference Event Management.

No matter what stage your business is in, business ownership is not a venture you go into alone. That’s not to say you need to be in business with someone else, as many times those relationships disintegrate over time with one owner blaming the other for not doing their fair share of the work. 

For your business to succeed in challenging times as well as to thrive, it’s essential you rely on partnerships to help you grow and offer the best services possible. These partnerships come in many forms, with a key component starting with personal coaching. As an owner, it’s not often possible to divulge all of your information to your staff and while it can be lonely in this role, a coach is the perfect complement to your business success. While my coach lives in Chicago and consults mostly with Fortune 500 executives, our relationship allows me to consider big company practices and meld them into my company’s culture as appropriate. It also provides me with reassurance when I need a boost or want to run a new idea by someone who is going to be objective with their feedback.      

Another key partnership can be a coach aligned with your business operations, someone who focuses on helping your team grow and on the logistics of your company. You can also lean on the expertise of trainers to come in and work on specific projects, such as with client relationships, or sales, or any area where your team has a passion to take it to the next level. 

Key relationships among a trusted group of other business owners may also prove to be one of the best investments you can make with your time and is perfect for those on a tight budget who aren’t able to presently hire coaches. Being purposeful in setting up one-on-one meetings before you start or end your workday often offers you a chance to learn how that business owner is addressing challenges, and can be very motivating as you realize you are not in this alone – someone else is actually experiencing many of the same challenges you are. This free opportunity to share best practices is truly a priceless benefit you don’t want to overlook.

We also rely on many other strategic partnerships with other like-minded or complementary companies. This can allow you to ensure you can provide the best services possible for your clients, while gaining even greater expertise without a financial stake with these organizations. As partnerships are hotter than ever in today’s small-business world, aligning with other organizations nearly always results in more business, more referrals and more opportunities. 

And of course, when all the partnership conversations have taken place, picking up a great self-help book on business ownership, leadership, or best business practices is always a great way to consider new ideas and inspire you to try something new in your business. Whatever you decide, I hope you’ll decide to include others and turn it into a business success story.

Trump's Carrier gambit: Sugar rush or new order of things?

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

The joint announcement Dec. 1 by President-elect Donald Trump and company officials that air conditioner manufacturer Carrier would reverse course and retain at Robotsleast 1,100 jobs at the Indiana plant Carrier had previously said would be lost to Mexico was a bit of watershed moment for economic development in the U.S. Whether the moment is an encouraging sign that there is a political solution that has heretofore been undiscovered by American policymakers to the ongoing decline in aggregate jobs in American manufacturing, or a blunt conclusion to a very public hostage situation remains to be seen. It is a debate the country’s economic development community -- all of a sudden -- has been forced into having out.

Carrier announced in February that it would move all of its 1,400 Indianapolis jobs to Monterrey, Mexico, where workers would earn $3 an hour. The highest-paid employees at the Indianapolis plant in question make $26 an hour and can earn more than $70,000 a year with overtime, according to the Indianapolis Star. Trump made the company’s Mexico intentions a signature campaign issue undergirding his hard-line stance on trade. 


Government intervention to prevent the off-shoring of U.S. jobs is not at all unique. States and municipalities have for decades negotiated with companies considering eliminating or reducing their U.S. workforce in favor of cheaper labor across the border or overseas, often using packages of state and local incentives awarded to the company to prevent jobs losses. What makes the Trump/Carrier affair extraordinary is the very public intervention of a presidential administration-in-waiting in a local economic development matter. 

While the tools that ultimately secured the Carrier deal for Indianapolis are not unusual -- the company accepted a state tax credits package worth about $7 million from the state of Indiana to secure the jobs -- the intervention of Trump into the deal signals, perhaps dubiously, that there is a simple political solution to the ongoing decline in American manufacturing jobs numbers. While manufacturing has never been more productive and profitable in this country, manufacturing jobs continue to disappear, thanks not to a failure on the part of politicians and bureaucrats to deftly negotiate them into existence, but due to a vexing assortment of factors including technology, global consumer patterns and workforce availability. I have argued here before: Trade is not the boogeyman it’s been made out to be by the Sanders wing of Democrats and the Trump wing of the GOP. For every 1 manufacturing job lost to trade in this country, 3 are lost to automation.


The news for Indiana and the 1,100 workers who will not lose their jobs after all is profoundly important and officials including Trump should be lauded for whatever role they played in retaining the jobs, but the message to the public that any official -- even the president-elect of the United States -- can personally make this kind of thing happen with the right words and a Twitter account is a dangerous one for communities and economic developers around the country. It suggests that personal style, power and salesmanship alone can overcome market forces and renew industries to a past glory that is no longer realistic. The future for American manufacturing is incredibly bright, but to ignore the paces of change the sector is undergoing is a gigantic missed opportunity that, unchecked, will only lead to more disappointment, confusion and anger on the part of those displaced from their jobs in the future.  

What America sorely needs from the Trump administration, after the nothingburger of the last eight years of economic development policy, is a muscular and structural approach to economic development focused on competing in the digital 21st century, not the promise of one-off negotiated deals that focus on clinging to 20th-century analog jobs. The president of United States does not have time to create jobs 1,000 at a time. We need him to capitalize on the unique and awesome opportunity a new holder of the office of the presidency has and deliver us a national jobs strategy within the first 100 days.


Instead of a master class in negotiation, what we saw play out in Indiana was akin to a hostage situation with two people with a gun to each other’s head that de-escalates to a handshake. Trump deserves credit for manipulating the situation with a hefty carrot -- $7 million in tax credits -- and massive stick: the $5 billion in federal defense contracts Carrier’s parent, United Technologies, currently enjoys. 

The Trump/Carrier rescue is for now only a sugar rush of good news. Economic developers and community leaders everywhere should be asking the incoming administration to translate the burst of goodwill and unusual national attention trained on an economic development matter the affair has created into a national economic development policy priority.


Connect with Brent:

  • brent.willett.org
  • 515-360-1732
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  • bwillett at cultivationcorridor dot org


Why you should take a 'family approach' to work

Kevin Vermeer is the president and CEO of UnityPoint Health.

Family traditions go hand-in-hand with this time of year. Whether they're comical or sentimental, some automatically come to mind when you think about the holiday season. What about the family dynamic within your organization? That phrase might seem like an oxymoron.

Not long ago, I stumbled upon a Forbes article written in 2012, which challenges leaders to assess whether or not their organizations take a "family approach" to work. Author Glenn Llopis points out family-owned businesses generally embrace this mentality well, saying specifically, "Not all of them are perfect, but that is not the point. Taking a family approach means establishing a foundation of trust and a cultural promise to unite as one; to perform with purpose and the healthier whole in mind."

Organizations of any size should strive for this. And it's during this season — one of reflection and anticipation — where we can evaluate areas of opportunity for us as leaders to be the force of change. Llopis does a great job outlining five ways leaders can begin this transition in their own organization, and here are two of my favorite points:

Build a Supportive Culture
If you were asked to describe your personal family values, you'd probably respond without much hesitation. But what if someone were to ask you the same question about your organization? An answer might not come as readily. If you build a culture of "family values" within your organization, employees will not only learn, know and resonate with those tenets, but they'll live by them, hold each other accountable and have each other’s backs as well.

Employees Should Feel Empowered to Speak Up
Think of conversation around your dinner table. If someone in the family doesn't chime in, usually it changes the entire mood of the meal. Encouraging employees to have a voice and share their opinion should be the standard. Creating an environment of diverse ideas and feedback will only lead to more trust among the group, as well as better decision-making.

I encourage you to spend time with your families and loved ones over the holiday season, just as I plan to do. But, also express gratitude to a co-worker, acknowledge positive efforts and support your team. After all, your work family matters, too.

The case for taking risks in web design

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

Toward the end of November, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and an article titled “Stumbling Into Black Friday...Kate Spade’s Bad Month” appeared in my feed. Given that it was an investment article (not typically my cup of tea), I’m not sure why I clicked on it. Maybe it’s my fondness for Kate Spade purses, or maybe the fact that I misread “month” to be “mouth,” intriguing the public relations side of my brain. Regardless, it was a quick read.

In essence, the article was sharing that Kate Spade’s brand and stocks are suffering. But behind that, it pointed out that the luxury handbag brand as a whole is suffering, due in part to “industry sameness.” Luxury handbags aren’t taking risks with their designs, and are losing sales because of it.

I’ll admit I’m not much of a fashionista, but the concept intrigued me because it’s one that we see in web design as well. There are a lot of templated web design options out there, and honestly, many of them are fine. They’re solid websites, they’re low risk, and they’re easy to get your boss to sign off on. However, you’ll never see them win a design award. Why? There’s no uniqueness, no intrigue, and no desirability.

There’s danger in taking risks with design. What if a user doesn’t understand how to use a new website concept? What if, by taking a chance, you negatively alienate yourself from your competitors?

On the other hand, the rewards are substantial. You could have a user experience that defines a new trend in web design. Visitors might remember your website (and what you offer) long after they visit, causing return traffic. They might tell their friends. Ultimately, when shopping around online and visiting you and your competitors, they might remember you, because you’re different. These risks make you stand out, they make people want to visit you, and ultimately, they introduce the intrigue and desirability you want your customers to feel about your product or service.

Taking risks in your web design isn’t easy. You’re not going to successfully take risks using a template you found online, and you won’t take a risk if you give yourself a week to complete a new website project. Risks come from deep exploration and utilization of resources. I don’t just mean spending a lot of money on your new website, although a larger budget doesn’t hurt. Utilize your people -- employees and customers alike. Utilize your web designer and the experience they have. Utilize the time needed to produce an amazing website. Take a risk, be a thought leader, and wait and see the results.


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

Email: alex@webspecdesign.com

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LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/alexandriakarei

Listening to understand

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

Take a minute to write down the names of the people in your life who you consider to be excellent listeners. 

How many names are on the list?  Businessprofessionals_talking 

Sadly, most of us cannot name more than two or three people we consider to be great listeners. Since each of us is estimated to have a circle of influence or network of 250 people (the number of people you know on a first-name basis or the number of people who would attend your wedding or your funeral), only being able to name a small few when reflecting on listening skills is a sad commentary.

How do you feel about the people on your list? If you’re like most of us, you have a lot of respect for these individuals.  That’s the power of listening.

What would it mean to your success as a leader if your name turned up when the people you work with were asked to name the excellent listeners in their life?

Why don’t we listen more effectively?

We all recognize how important listening is, and we can list many benefits. We all intend to listen well. Why don’t most of us listen more effectively?

Here are two reasons:

  1. There is a prevailing belief that because we can hear, we can listen. Some of the best listeners in the world are deaf people, providing evidence that listening is much more than hearing words and is within the reach of anyone who chooses to acquire the skill.
  1. If you’ve ever heard (or said) “Shut up and listen,” you have fallen into the trap of believing listening is a passive activity that doesn’t demand active participation. Listening is an active sport that engages the other party, checks for understanding, notices what isn’t said and clarifies conflicting information, all while making the other person feel important.

Listening to respond

Even people who are skilled in listening are typically listening to respond (what am I going to say next?) rather than listening to understand. Listening to understand is a higher level of listening, and few of us are skilled in it.

Check out this short video clip for tips on improving your listening skills. For one day, commit to Level 1 listening and see how it impacts your relationships.


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Property tax sticker shock

2017 Property Taxes on a West Des Moines Home

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

Property tax bills are paid twice per year, in September and March. For those who actually write a check, there is always a sense of sticker shock. For example:

  • A property owner in a home valued at $200,000 in Ankeny would pay about $4,600 per year or $2,300 twice a year.
  • An Ankeny business with property valued at $200,000 would pay about $7,700 per year (less its share of a $1,665 tax credit that the state issues for each commercial property “unit,” or building).

Because property taxes are normally incorporated into a mortgage or rent payment, few individuals actually write a check for property taxes. But everyone pays, and everyone can – and should – look at his or her property tax statement.

The Polk county treasurer and assessor’s offices have recently improved their websites, making it easier than ever to quickly research property tax information.

Staying up to date on your property taxes allows you to know things like:

  • What government entities are your property taxes supporting? Many people are not aware of their support of Broadlawns Medical Center, the Des Moines Area Regional Transit (DART) system, or Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC). Your property tax statement tells you what local governments you are supporting, and how much support you are giving them each year.
  • Which local government takes the largest share of your property taxes?
  • Which government had the largest increase in property taxes compared with last year?

Knowing the answers to these questions allows you to hold your elected officials accountable for their decisions.

The Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa reports annually on property tax rates and increases in property tax collections for city governments and schools in central Iowa.

Do yourself a favor and increase your understanding of the community in which you live and pay taxes. If you’re satisfied, that’s great. If you’re not, consider learning more about what it takes to make change – through our organization, or directly by attending one of your local school board, city council, Broadlawns, DMACC or DART meetings.

Breathe new life into your leadership with these five books

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive & Leadership Coach, president of the International Coach Federation Iowa, a Forbes Coaches Council member, and owner of MAP Professional Development Inc.

ASPIRE books 2016 - Gilbert Brown Cain Kay Shipman GroutI’ve read a number of outstanding books in 2016, many of which I’ve shared with you here. What proves even more transformational than reading, however, is talking about them with like-minded professionals and leaders. This year, the ASPIRE Success Club discussed several game-changing books, each providing a different perspective or sharing a new way of approaching a subject. I’ll highlight five of them to hopefully add to your must-read list!

If you need to expand your sense of possibility, shift to a positive mindset, and celebrate the joys in life, start with Dream Big by Pam Grout. With powerful examples of people living big, combined with practical action steps we all can implement, Grout offers a terrific springboard for living and working to your full potential. “You are not here to ‘get by,’ ” she writes. “You are here to create the good, the beautiful, and the holy.” Inspiring!

Need a boost of confidence? Katty Kay and Claire Shipman offer ideas in spades with The Confidence Code. They seek wisdom from both psychology and neuroscience experts as well as leaders in all types of settings – politics, sports, the military, the arts and more – to uncover the keys to confidence. The big takeaway? “Action separates the timid from the bold.” Step out of your comfort zone and take action.

Whether you consider yourself an introvert or live, work or partner with one, Quiet by Susan Cain is a true game-changer. This book transformed my interactions, gave me a new understanding of how people communicate, and finally explained why I test the way I do on personality assessments! I consider this a must-read for leaders, teachers and anyone wanting to help others reach their full potential.

If you read Brene Brown’s excellent book Daring Greatly, you learned about the power of vulnerability and shining the light on shame and fear. Rising Strong took it up a notch and left many of us with tears in our eyes but completely committed to living stronger, fuller lives. “Integrity,” writes Brown, “is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” Powerful.

We closed out the year discussing Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, which busts the door open on fear and reminds us that we are all creative, whether we’re sculpting or spreadsheeting or changing diapers. One of this book’s most valuable lessons involves Gilbert’s insistence that we create for the sake of creating, not for any external validation. “I can only be in charge of producing the work itself,” she shares. “That’s a hard enough job. I refuse to take on additional jobs, such as trying to police what anybody thinks about my work once it leaves my desk.” Create your art, do your best, put it out into the world, then detach.

Christi Hegstad headshot horizontal w leaves sun cropped - FB personalIf you’ve felt stifled, stuck or suffering from a case of the “same old, same old,” these books will breathe fresh air into your work, leadership and life. What book have you read this year that’s changed your thoughts or approach? Add to our ever-growing reading lists by sharing your picks in the comments below!

Christi Hegstad, Ph.D., helps you bring meaning to work and purpose to life! Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all @ChristiHegstad.

Ditch the labels and trust your own style

Cory W. Sharp is an intern architect at FEH Design in Des Moines and the current president of the Young Professionals Connection.

Bizrec1For anyone who knows me well, they know that I’m always quick to jump on board. Even in the expression “When one door closes, another one opens,” I’d rather find a window than wait for that other door to open.

I tend to process information quickly, often going with my gut, and feel comfortable making decisions in short order and moving on to the next thing. Some might consider this a great asset to have -- recognizing opportunity and seizing it -- while others might be quick to categorize me as an overly confident millennial who needs to slow down and pay some more dues before tackling greater responsibilities.

On the other hand, there’s also a style like my friend Kyle Oppenhuizen utilizes, the current president of YPIowa and communications manager at the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Kyle is known for listening to different opinions, thoroughly thinking through complex issues and considering all possibilities before reacting. Instead of seeing Kyle as a thoughtful and successful problem-solver with strategic insight, some might try to label him as not having an opinion because he does not pre-emptively react.

They couldn't be more wrong. While Kyle and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum in the way we process information and make decisions, I think his approach is a great way to do things, too.

Why? For starters, because I hate labels. Too many people like to categorize things -- label them -- because it makes their lives easier. If we know what category something belongs to, we know how to handle it. But labels create familiarity. And, like the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt.

It's far too easy to miss out on a great relationship or opportunity when we take the easy way out by slapping a label on a person, place, situation or thing.

Someone with my personality might get high marks in the leadership column because we're eager to take charge and get things done, while a more introverted person might get overlooked.

In fact, according to a USA Today poll, 65 percent of executives indicated introversion was a barrier to rising through the corporate ranks. But there's plenty of research that shows people who come off as shy are often great leaders because they're some of the best listeners. That makes them good consensus builders. I think they have an advantage, too, because when they do talk, people are likely to listen.Oppenhuizen, Kyle - Maharry Photography, 2015

While my eagerness and confidence works for me, Kyle's careful approach works well for him -- and could work well for you, too.

In the end, it's all about finding the right style for you. What you think might be your greatest weakness could actually be your greatest strength.

Don't sweat labels like "extrovert" or introvert." Just ditch the labels and embrace your own style.

In other words, be yourself. 


Email Cory at:



NYT hatchet job on GMOs shoots first, aims second

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

The Oct. 29 New York Times article “Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops” has drawn widespread condemnation from the agriculture and bioscience communities disputing its basis, key points and Shutterstock_68377594conclusions. Here's mine.

The piece opens with the suggestion that longtime concern about the safety of genetically modified crops — a premise agricultural experts and scientists have been arguing is inaccurate for years — is founded. That virtually no objective evidence-based science exists to undergird such an assertion is overlooked in the piece and in fact is contradicted by the headline on the Times’ own May 17 article “Genetically Engineered Crops Are Safe, Analysis Finds.”

Faced with mountains of objective evidence that disputes GM crop safety concerns, the Oct. 29 article’s author, undeterred, moves to argue we are all faced with a more basic issue we all have somehow missed: “Genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.”

Nonsense. According to Ken Russell, associate professor in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture at the University of Nebraska, national corn yield averages 125 bushels per acre, up nearly 500% since the 1930s and the advent of reliable yield tracking technology. GMO technology, he argues, has a lot (but not all) to do with it. “[M]uch of this improved yield was the result of improved genetics; that is, it occurred because farmers were planting improved varieties of corn developed through plant breeding,” he writes

To be extraordinarily conservative, even if we presume GM technology has had something to do with just a quarter of the crop yield increases we’ve seen in this country since its use became widespread in the early 2000s, the technology has played an outsized role in the greatest run-up in crop yields in human history. 

Too, to limit the exponential value to human life that GM technology has brought to the United States and Canada, as Borlaug the Times piece does, is artificially limiting and ignores the incredible contributions of the technology to alleviating hunger in the developing world. For example, the groundbreaking work in plant breeding done by our own celebrated Norman Borlaug, he of the World Food Prize, is said to have saved -- literally -- a billion lives. For only one of countless examples of the humanitarian impact Borlaug’s work has had across the globe, his development of drought- and disease-resistant wheat more than doubled wheat production in India and Pakistan in the 1970s, saving millions from starvation.

At Iowa’s Cultivation Corridor, one of the nation’s first cluster-based economic development organizations focused on value-added agriculture, I spend a great deal of time with our agricultural research and agbioscience communities in Iowa, which are anchored by Iowa State University and boast some of the world’s top ag and bioscience companies.  Here, some of the world’s top researchers and agricultural scientists work collaboratively with public and private sector stakeholders to contribute solutions to the world’s most pressing food and nutrition challenges. 

The Times’ journalistic disparagement of the work of these men and women and their colleagues all over the world to create technologies that will feed a global population of 10 billion people in 2050 is irresponsible and reprehensible. We should all be grateful that it will not deter those who are working to develop better, more sustainable ways to feed us all.

BrentWillett.org | 515-360-1732

bwillett@cultivationcorridor.org | @brent_willett | LinkedIn.com/in/brentwillett

Electric cars make sense in Iowa

Electric cars 01Rob Smith is principal architect at CMBA | Smith Metzger.

Little-known fact about electric vehicles: Des Moines is where the first American electric car was built, by William Morrison in 1887. The range was 50 miles, and in the early 1900s there were more electric cars on the road than any other type. Thomas Edison also built one, in 1913.

Now every manufacturer is racing to see how quickly an electric vehicle (EV) can come to the market. 

And the “greenness” of the EV has been hotly debated. I am sure you have heard of many of the issues.

  • The EV has a similar carbon footprint from the manufacturing process to that of any other car. In fact, the EV uses many rare metals to keep the vehicle lightweight.
  • The manufacture of some types of batteries causes great damage to the environment because of strip mining. That may or may not be a big issue.
  • The emissions are greatly reduced compared to the gas engine. No debate here.

But the biggest factor in the “greenness” of the EV is where on the planet it is charged. 

Electric cars 02The source used to produce the electricity trumps all the other green factors of the electric vehicle. Therefore, Iowa, with an estimated 40% of electricity generated by wind power, is the perfect place to operate an EV.

In Colorado, where coal produces electricity, the footprint equals a car getting poor gas mileage. If the EV is charged where the electricity is produced mostly from wind, hydro or nuclear, the effect can be equal to operating a gas-powered car getting 100 miles per gallon.

Let me know if you are ready to go all electric. Email me at smith.r@cmbaarchitects.com

Cubs, Trump, Dow industrials all beat the odds. December forecast: Pigs fly?

Kent Kramer, CFP, AIF, is chief investment officer/lead adviser at Foster Group. He writes about investing for IowaBiz.com

Like many Americans, I keep looking out my window for pigs with wings ... the euphemism “when pigs fly” having been recently invoked for:

  1. The Chicago Cubs winning the World Series after a 108-year drought, finding themselves down three games to one to the Cleveland Indians on Oct. 30 (15% probability*).
  2. Donald Trump winning the United States presidential election after an aggregated index of national polls gave him less than a 3-in-10 chance to win on Nov. 8 (28.6% probability*).
  3. U.S. stock market indices reaching all-time highs within 24 hours of Nov. 8's unexpected election results, given the plummeting futures markets as election returns were tallied in the early morning hours of Nov. 9. (Dow futures down over 5% at 1:30 a.m. EST 11/9/2016.+)

For each of these three outcomes, the odds against them occurring were very long. In other words, those professions specializing in making predictions (bookies, pollsters, certain hedge funds) ended up being wrong in historically significant ways.

In the days leading up to the recent election, I had the opportunity to speak with a number of audiences and investors about what (if anything) the coming election meant for financial markets and portfolios. As tempting as it was to make a prediction, after 22 years of observing investment market behavior as a “professional,” I resisted, knowing that the odds of making anything like a correct prediction were no better than 50-50.  

Sports fans, political observers and many investors can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to the temptation of making predictions. We watch the news, talk with friends and colleagues, read the pundits, editorials and analysis, and we believe that we can “see the writing on the wall.” While it’s fun to do this with our sports loyalties, it’s potentially disastrous to act on our predictions when it comes to portfolios.

There were professional and institutional investors on the wrong side of that 5% fall in the value of Dow futures. They were predicting a very negative impact on U.S. stocks as a result of the surprising election outcome. However, as U.S. markets began the trading day Wednesday morning following the election, the Dow Jones industrials index opened down a minuscule 0.08% and closed the day up 1.4% at a new record high+. Taking investment actions in line with those negative predictions in the early hours proved very costly.

In a recent white paper on the benefits of diversification, researcher Wei Dai, Ph.D., finds that under many conditions diversification not only reduces volatility, but, “For all investment horizons, there was a substantial increase in the reliability of outperformance as the portfolios become more diversified.”++ Dai was researching U.S. stock portfolio strategies formed around varying degrees of overweighting to value and smaller company stocks and how taking a more or less diversified approach affected results.

For investors who are thinking about how to position their portfolios for higher probabilities of outperformance, Dai’s conclusion supports the idea that consistent diversification over longer time periods is a more reliable strategy for both reducing risk and enhancing return than acting on short-term predictive models using timing models and smaller numbers of stocks.

* Both according to FiveThirtyEight.com a leading statistical modeling website for sports, politics and economics.

+ Wall Street Journal, Nov. 9, 2016

++ "How Diversification Affects the Reliability of Outcomes," Wei Dai, Ph.D., Dimensional Fund Advisors LP

PLEASE NOTE LIMITATIONS: Please see Important Disclosure Information and the limitations of any ranking/recognitions, at www.fostergrp.com/disclosures. The above discussion should be viewed in its entirety. The use of any portion thereof without reference to the remainder could result in a loss of context. Foster Group cannot be responsible for any resulting discrepancy. A copy of our current written disclosure statement as set forth on Part 2A of Form ADV is available at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov.

The granddaddy of all succession plans

- John Mickelson, founder and managing partner Midwest Growth Partners, is IowaBiz's blogger on succession planning. Read more about him here. 

On November 8, U.S. citizens went to the polls and voted for who they believed should be the next President. President Obama, who is ending his second and constitutionally mandated final term, will hand over control of the executive branch of the government to President-Elect Trump on January 20.  

Wanting to escape from a monarchist system, our country’s forefathers’ setup this mandated transition of powers – which is just a big succession plan. This succession plan faces similar issues as you do as a business owner developing and executing a succession plan.

Here are some decisions that President Obama and President-Elect Trump may face, which are synonymous with what a seller and purchaser of a business might also face:

President Obama (Outgoing Business Owner)

·       Legacy – feel responsibility to have work done continued and reputation held in high regard.

·       Relationships – want to ensure loyal supporters are taken care of.

·       Future for family – want to make sure family is financially secure, safe, and well-adjusted to a new environment.

·       Time – figure out what hobbies, causes, and interests will occupy new found time.

President-Elect Trump (Purchaser of Business)

·       Strategy – what did predecessor do that should continue and what should change?

·       People – who should surround as trusted advisors?

·       Systems – need to setup procedures and protocols that fit the newly assembled team

·       Communication – clearly communicating a vision to different constituencies is important in first 100 days

If you are thinking about selling your business as part of a succession plan, a "transition team" just like President Obama and President-Elect Trump are using right now is vital to achieving your unique goals.

Identifying a gap or niche and taking advantage of it

Kelly Sharp is the owner of the Heart of Iowa Market Place in historic Valley Junction.

In life and business, it's always so much easier to see what's there when we should also be looking for what's not there.

That's because the "what's not there" can make as big a difference for all of us, particularly specialty retailers, as the "what's there." It's important to know that I'm not saying niche retailers should start offering new products or services just for the sake of doing something new or different.

Just the opposite.

Filling gaps has the vital purpose of meeting your customers' needs so they don't go somewhere else. It's about making sure you don't give potential competitors a foothold into your specialty. Identifying new niches is all about complementing your existing experience as much as or more than it is about expanding it.

For example, I've recently started adding my own branded product lines at the Heart of Iowa Market Place because some items I wanted to carry just weren't available. What better opportunity to brand your business than to consider the same approach? (In fact, don't just consider it. If it makes dollars and sense, do it!)

In my case, we'd offered a book with images of Iowa that sold very well, but there were no other books in the price range or style my customers wanted. Instead of losing out on sales, I decided to do something about it. I found a wonderful local photographer, Justin Rogers, and together we've created a beautiful new book that will come out shortly.  

As I look at my store and other new business opportunities, I try to find that niche or gap in the marketplace. It's much, much easier to be successful if the pool of competitors is smaller and you're filling a real market need.

Always ask yourself, "What are we missing? What are we not seeing that we should be seeing? What are we not doing that fits with who we are? And, what can we be doing to improve the customer experience, build our brand and make us more profitable?"

Asking those questions on a regular basis will not only help you identify dangerous gaps and promising new niches, it will help you take advantage of them in a big way.

Event day survival kit




Amy Nebons owns event management company Blink Events LLC.

So your big event day is looming on the horizon. The sense of excitement and suspense overwhelm you. All of your hard work is reaching a culmination! What’s going to happen? Will people like it? What if it’s a total flop?! Never fear, if you are prepared and organized, your day will be a success! To ease some of those "day of" jitters, make sure your “Event Survival Kit” is packed the night before. Here are a few items to take with you come event day that will ensure the event runs smoothly.

TOOL BOX: Every good event planner has a bag of tricks that lives in the back of their car and is present at every event. These boxes might include: tape (of all kinds), scissors, votives, lighter, Tide stick, walkie-talkies, Sharpies, string/twine/fishing line, batteries, checkbook, safety pins, glue, tape measure, zip ties, phone charger … and the list goes on. This is always a box-in-progress where different items make their way in and out, depending on the event type and scope. The key to success when packing your box is to choose versatile and functional pieces that can jump in when something logistical goes awry. 

VENDOR DETAIL & CONTACT LIST: You should always keep an organized list of all event vendors. This list should include the company name, what they are doing for the event, contact person’s name and phone number, and when they will be on and off venue site. Make several copies of this list and distribute it to all those involved with the event planning and management. If possible, a pre-event meeting with all of your major event vendors should be held to ensure everyone is on the same page. The clearer the lines of communications between all parties, the smoother the event will run.

DETAILED TIMELINE & SCHEDULE KEEPER: Your event should always have a schedule (broken out by minute) that details the sequence of events. Your schedule will start with the setup of the event and will end with the breakdown. The success of this tool rests largely on the diligence of the person who keeps it. Always have a designated event scheduler, who intimately understands and adheres to said schedule. This document should also be distributed to the entire event planning and management team.

What are some of your Event Survival Tools? The folks at Blink Events would love to know!


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.  

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