Tag Archives: Success

Progress Can Be Counterintuitive

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

– Hippocrates

I love the New Year. I appreciate the promise of a fresh start and a brighter future. Many of us have set New Year’s resolutions, and one of the most common resolutions is losing weight by eating right, exercise, or a combination of both.

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Losing weight is not rocket science, but many of us carry around excess insulation even though we know what we should do. We know that we need to consume fewer calories than we burn and we know that not all food is equal (the nutrition in a potato chip or candy bar is far different than the nutrition in broccoli). So we make our resolutions that we will forgo the junk food or we count calories and reduce our calorie intake by 500 calories a day. It may work for a while, but it usually does not work in the long term.

What Works

Over the Christmas break I had some free time to read. I picked up a book entitled How Not To Die by Michael Greger, M.D.. I don’t want to die, so I thought I’d read the book. The entire title is How not to die: The Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease. The book had a 4.8 of 5 stars with nearly 2,500 ratings, so I thought I would see what Dr. Gregor had to say.

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As I read, I found that Dr. Gregor is a vegan; I am clearly not, but one passage really intrigued me. Gregor explained:

Though calorie cutting has been the cornerstone of most weight loss strategies, evidence suggests that the majority of individuals who lose weight by portion control eventually regain it. Starving ourselves almost never works long term. So wouldn’t it be great if instead we could find a way to eat more food to get the same weight loss benefit?

The researchers divided overweight subjects into two groups. The first group was asked to eat five cups a week of lentils, chickpeas, split peas, or navy beans—but not to change their diets in any other way. The second group was asked to simply cut out five hundred calories a day from their diets. Guess who got healthier? The group directed to eat more food. Eating legumes was shown to be just as effective at slimming waistlines and improving blood sugar control as calorie cutting. The legume group also gained additional benefits in the form of improved cholesterol and insulin regulation.[i]


Chickpeas Kichererbsen

How it Works

I am not the kind of doctor that should be dispensing medical advice (and for all legal purposes, I AM NOT), but there is a certain beauty in this approach. Rather than counting calories and feeling deprived, simply add a little more good food to the equation. Ideally you would increase the percentage over time which would decrease the percentage of the bad foods you consume.

I found this passage so intriguing for two reasons. First, I experienced this last year. I went on a temporary elimination diet in order to determine if I had any food sensitivities. To do this, I had to not eat any of the major foods that cause reactions: gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, corn, and sugar and sugar substitutes for a couple of weeks. When you do this, you are not left with much to eat other than healthy vegetables, and I accidentally lost 12 pounds. I unwittingly did what Dr. Gregor recommended.

Second, I was intrigued because the idea reaches far beyond diet. When I first started studying leadership and management, the goal in my mind was to not make mistakes. That is impracticable; all leaders will make mistakes. But what if the goal for a leader was to be extra-focused on taking care of his people and instilling commitment to the organization. The good (the metaphorical chick peas) would offset the occasional mistakes.

The same holds true for the salesman who makes more calls, the office manager who really gets to know her people, and the contractor who instills a culture of safe and excellent work. Everything improves for those who eat the metaphorical chick peas. Add enough good and the bad is naturally reduced. Progress is counterintuitive.


What About You?

What are your metaphorical Chick Peas? How can you squeeze a few more servings of these in to replace the fast-food in your work life?



[i] Gregor, M., & Stone, G. (2015). How not to die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease. New York: Flatiron Books. (pp. 1-8-109).

-Darin Gerdes



Dr. Darin Gerdes is an Associate Professor of management in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.


This post was originally created for Great Business Networking (GBN), a networking organization for business professionals where Dr. Gerdes is the Director of Education.


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Are You Doing the Wrong Things For the Right Reasons?

As Hurricane Irma came and went, I wondered about people doing the wrong things for the right reasons. By that, I mean that they tried to do the right thing, but they still ended up with poor results. For example, during the hurricane, we initially expected a large hit in South Carolina. So the prudent made plans, and got out of town.

Source: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/09/07/photos-president-donald-j-trumps-briefing-hurricane-irma

Source: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/09/07/photos-president-donald-j-trumps-briefing-hurricane-irma

After all, the National Weather Service projected a hit. On Thursday, President Trump was briefed on the same storm-path projection. At that point, it only seemed prudent to get out of town. But that was cold comfort to those who left for Georgia or Tennessee only to place themselves directly in the path of the shifting storm.[i]

Storms are unpredictable so it is hard to blame these folks for their results. It is understandable to make this kind of error in light of the information that we had at the time. Others, however, made different errors. They posted about their time away from their homes on Facebook. In doing so, they created potentially dangerous situations.

These people wanted their friends and loved ones to know that they were safe where they landed, and Facebook was a convenient way to get that message across. It was doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. At a time where 6.5 million people were ordered to evacuate Florida,[ii] such posts are a burglar’s dream come true. In this case, prudence required a different response.

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In business, we make mistakes too as when we misread the market. The market is complex and difficult to understand. Not everyone gets it right.

However, many mistakes can be avoided. In such cases, we know what to do, but we do something else. Maybe we do this because it is easier; maybe because of ignorance. In either event, it is like an error in baseball—sometimes called and unforced error. No one faults an outfielder who fails to catch a ball that was hit out of the park, but when he bobbles a ball that he should have caught, he is charged with an error.

The same thinking should apply in business. We can’t control everything, but we should be careful to limit the number of errors that are within our control.

Common Errors in Business

  • Entrepreneurs often fail because they do not know what they do not know. That is not the problem. The error comes when they do not take the time to learn how to run the business.[i]
  • Managers tend to focus on extrinsic rewards (e.g., bonuses, perks, etc.) when the preponderance of evidence shows that intrinsic rewards (e.g., creativity and autonomy) drive motivation.[ii]
  • Salesmen tend to talk more than they should even though they know that customers want them to listen.[iii]
  • Networkers fail to focus on the person in front of them because they are overly concerned with other people with whom they wish to connect.

In each of these cases, they do the wrong things for the right reasons. Entrepreneurs want to succeed. Managers want employees to be motivated. Salesmen want to complete the sale. Networkers want to make more connections. Their intentions are good, but good intentions do not blunt the consequences of incorrect actions.

What About You?

What actions are you taking that are standing in the way of your success? Are you doing the wrong things for the right reasons?

-Darin Gerdes



[i] Gerber, M. E. (1995). The E-myth revisited. New York, NY: HarperBusiness

[ii] Kohn, A. (1993, September-October). Why incentive plans cannot work. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/1993/09/why-incentive-plans-cannot-work

[iii] Martin, S.W. (2017). 6 reasons salespeople win or lose a sale. Harvard business review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/06/6-reasons-salespeople-win-or-lose-a-sale

[i] Photos from President Donald J. Trump’s briefing on Hurricane Irma. The White House. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/09/07/photos-president-donald-j-trumps-briefing-hurricane-irma

[ii] Nehamas, N. (2017, September 15). Built for bottleneck: Is Florida growing too fast to evacuate before monster storms. Miami Herald. Retrieved from http://www.miamiherald.com/news/weather/hurricane/article173494726.html



Dr. Darin Gerdes is an Associate Professor of management in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.


This post was originally created for Great Business Networking (GBN), a networking organization for business professionals where Dr. Gerdes is the Director of Education.


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How to be Successful

School just started again. You might not be aware of it unless you are a parent. I am quite aware of it. For me there is a sudden shift during the transitions between semesters. I also have a new class that I have not taught before–a freshman class.

Freshmen are an interesting lot. They have achieved success by graduating from high school where they were the acknowledged leaders, but now they are starting over, usually in a quite new environment where they have to learn to navigate again. They are trying to find their classes, buy their books, and get their new university email account working, while they reconstruct a social life. Many have come to college without any friends. While they will develop friends over time, some are lonely and isolated. It is a transition.

I am not sure that their first impression of me helped. In the first two class periods, I had to tell one student not to eat in my class and a few others to take hats off, remove headphones, or stop talking when class begins. Of course, I explained that this was not to be mean, but to prepare them for the realities of work. I am not sure that all of them understood the difference.

I haven’t taught freshman for seven or eight years, so it was a bit of a transition for me too. I primarily teach graduate students. Freshmen are different. They need a lot of guidance about the basics of success. Yesterday in class, I highlighted what they needed to do to be successful in college. This included:

  • A willingness to learn
  • Hard work
  • Honesty
  • Perseverance
  • Manners and people skills
  • Not being afraid to ask a question when you do not understand

A Willingness to Learn

I explained that a willingness to learn was the entire point of college. If they come here without opening their minds to that which is being taught, reactively arguing against what is being offered without expanding their range of understanding, even if they obtain a degree, they will not gain an education.

Hard work

Willingness to learn is necessary, but not a sufficient condition for success. They have to engage in the hard work of learning. Went they are exposed to new ideas, they must work to make the ideas their own. I reminded them of Edison’s quote that, “The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work.”

Over the next 4 years, they should spend 1800 hours in class, and another 5,400 hours reading and studying. Those that don’t put in the time, preferring to study as little as they can, cramming at the end, will shortchange themselves.


Students do not think of not studying as being dishonest, but it is. Even if they think that they are only harming themselves—engaging in a victimless crime—they are not. Employers expect that a degree represents something more than the minimum. When they hire a college graduate, they pay a premium over a high school graduate. They expect that the student has accumulated a certain level of knowledge, skills, and perseverance.

Freshman students’ initial attitudes about studying are the opposite of those espoused by the most successful in society. Warren Buffett, for example, explained, “Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three: qualities: Integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”[1]

Integrity is more than an absence of lying. It is the eradication of deceit. It is telling the whole truth. It is doing all that needs to be done. It means striving for excellence, not coasting. And this is important to establish now because the habits that they form here will impact the rest of their lives.


“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” This quote, falsely attributed to Calvin Coolidge, speaks volumes. It is a message that these students need to hear. They can’t win if they give up.

Manners and People Skills

In light of our experience, manners needed some attention. I elaborated on the importance of etiquette to their future success. Then I introduced my students to Peter Drucker, the father of modern management. Drucker wrote:

Manners are the lubricating oil of an organization. It’s a law of nature that two moving bodies in contact with each other create friction. This is as true for human beings as it is for inanimate objects. Manners–simple things, like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and knowing a person’s name or asking after her family—enable two people to work together whether they like each other or not. Bright people, especially bright young people, often do not understand this.[2]

Not Being Afraid to Ask When You Do Not Understand

This one was easy, because a student asked a clarifying question earlier and I used it as an opportunity to show the class how valuable his question was. He found it valuable. I found it valuable (as an opportunity to refine the answer), and I explained that if he had a question, it was likely that others had questions too. I thanked him for being willing to speak up because it also benefitted those who were too afraid to look like they did not know.

When we had finished, I asked if the students had any additional thoughts about our discussion. One young lady volunteered that these principles mirrored some of the ideas in the textbook. I was impressed by her observation and I explained that the same principles will serve her throughout life. It did not matter what vocations she chose. The same principles that we were discussing in our class are those that will help a businessman win more clients.


And that is the lesson. How well do you measure up in the basic principles that lead to success?

  • A willingness to learn
  • Hard work
  • Honesty
  • Perseverance
  • Manners and people skills
  • Not being afraid to ask a question when you do not understand

If any areas are lacking, what will you do to develop them?



[1] Buffett, W. (1998). Thoughts of Chairman Buffett: Thirty years of unconventional wisdom from the sage of Omaha. New York: HarperCollins.

[2] Drucker, P. F. (2017). Managing Oneself: The key to success. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.

-Darin Gerdes



Dr. Darin Gerdes is an Associate Professor of management in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.


This post was originally created for Great Business Networking (GBN), a networking organization for business professionals where Dr. Gerdes is the Director of Education.



Filed under Effectiveness, Influence, Motivation, Success, Uncategorized

The Power of Participation

I was recently talking to an MBA student about the power of participation. Often, leaders think that they have to have all the answers. This is not only silly, but it can be very costly. Leaders who are humble enough to know that they need their people can turn crises into opportunities. One of the best examples comes from Jack Stack’s The Great Game of BusinessStack Wrote:

A few years ago, we had a problem with a competitor who tried to come in and take away our fuel-injection pump business. It all began when a new buyer was appointed at one of our major customers. Seeing an opportunity, our competitor went to him and offered to supply pumps at a price below ours. It was a smart move. The new buyer wanted to make a good impression on his company, and reducing costs was a good way to do it. So the Buyer came to me and said, “Look. I don’t have any choice here. Unless you reduce your price by 6 percent, I’m going to give the business to the other guy. I’ll give you three months to get the price down to his level.”

Now a 6 percent price reduction was basically the difference between making money and losing money on the product. We couldn’t imagine how our competitor was going to make money at that price. As it happened, we owned a share of his stock. We checked out his financials, and we saw that he had an unbelievable amount of debt on his balance sheet. I’m talking about a $100 million company that owed $56 Million. When you borrow that much money, you can’t hide it, even if you’re private. Somebody knows.  In addition, this was a union company, so we knew what he was paying his people. We also knew that our production times weren’t unreasonable, and that our prices were in line with the marketplace.

So it was clear that this guy was out to buy the account. He was subsidizing the product by using debt to cover his losses. His strategy was clear: he was going to get the contract at a loss, run us out of the market, and then raise the prices later on. We explained all that to the buyer. We appealed to loyalty and everything else. But he insisted on the price cut, which was going to save his company money, at least in the short run. Somehow we had to come up with a way to reduce our costs.

So I went down to the pump room, where we make the fuel-injection pumps. I told people what we were up against. These pumps sold for about $200 each. To cut the price by 6 percent, we had to save $12 per unit. I said, “I don’t know how to get that kind of cost reduction, but if we don’t do it, we’re going to lose this contract, and that could cost some people their jobs.” Then I put a picture of the other company’s CEO on the wall, along with a copy of its financial statements. I said, “Here’s the guy who’s trying to take your jobs away from you, and I am afraid I don’t know how to stop him. I’ve already done everything I can, and it hasn’t worked. It’s up to you now.” I honestly believed it would take a miracle to save the contract.

So I went down to the pump room, where we make the fuel-injection pumps. I told people what we were up against. These pumps sold for about $200 each. To cut the price by 6 percent, we had to save $12 per unit. I said, “I don’t know how to get that kind of cost reduction, but if we don’t do it, we’re going to lose this contract, and that could cost some people their jobs.” Then I put a picture of the other company’s CEO on the wall, along with a copy of its financial statements. I said, “Here’s the guy who’s trying to take your jobs away from you, and I am afraid I don’t know how to stop him. I’ve already done everything I can, and it hasn’t worked. It’s up to you now.” I honestly believed it would take a miracle to save the contract.

The people in the pump room were amazing. They formed a task force, and they put up a thermometer. They got together and talked about how they could save a nickel here and a dime there. They looked at their hardware. They questioned every material cost. They asked how a vendor could be charging us so much when you could get the same thing for substantially less at ACE Hardware. Every day they posted their savings. At the end of three months they had cut $40 out of the pump’s cost—a 20 percent savings.

I would never have thought they could do it. That was the one time people really surprised me. There isn’t an engineer in the world who could have done what they did. They had to do it themselves. What’s interesting is that they passed 10 percent of the reduction along to the costumer, which passed it along to the marketplace, and the volume rose, creating more jobs. So people got to see the whole economic cycle. As for the competitor, he lost that one, but he’s still out there, keeping us on our toes.  (Stack, 1992, pp. 110-111).

Great Game

Are you getting the most out of your people? If not, are you the reason? Do you ask for their help or do you feel that you have to have all of the answers?



Dr. Darin Gerdes is an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Programs in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.

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How to Do More With Less.

Over the last few days, I  have been writing about keeping New Year’s Resolutions. My New Year’s Resolution is to write less and write more. It sounds strange, but let me explain.

With Less

The plan is to only write about the one idea at a time.

Bloggers tend to be wordy unless they are focused. I am no exception.

I have found that many of my posts get away from me. I sit down and intend to write a page, and before I know it, I am 5 pages deep with no conclusion in sight.  I see myself in ProBlogger’s 13 Steps to Being the Worst Blogger on the Planet (I violate #4,5,6,9, & 12 regularly).

Ideally, I would write short, clear posts that make a contribution to my readers’s thinking, like Seth Godin‘s blog.

This is Seth’s Entire blog post from December 27, 2013:

No one reads a comic strip because it’s drawn well

It has to be drawn well enough, not perfectly.

No one goes to a rock concert because the band is in tune. They have to be close enough to not be distracting, but being in tune isn’t the point.

No one buys a house because every floorboard is hammered in at the six sigma level of perfection. They have to be good enough, and better than good enough is just fine, but perfect isn’t something that’s going to overwhelm location, beauty, peace of mind and price.

As creators, our pursuit of perfection might be misguided, particularly if it comes at the expense of the things that matter.

That is all. But that is not all. This small contribution will certainly become part of his next book. Seth is doing less…and doing more.

Do More

The time I save through this focused activity should create more opportunities to write more frequently. It is hard to blog regularly when each post takes an entire afternoon. It is much easier to just focus on one key idea and move on.

Over time, the consistency of short contributions will pay greater dividends than longer, irregular postings.

Get Greater Results

We are all busy.

As a professor, I have classes to teach, papers to grade, research to review, and scholarly articles to write. Popular writing has taken a back seat to my other duties.

Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern University

Perhaps you are like me. The demands of your job place your aspirations just out of reach. I would suggest that you attempt to do more by doing less.

Are you an aspiring writer? A regular flow of shorter blog posts is far better than sporatic postings.

Are you interested in losing weight? Walking an extra 20 minutes regularly will burn more calories than one really long walk each month.

Maybe you hope to get your financial house in order. A constant stream of small savings is almost assured to beat the irregular deposits that you one day hope to make.

How can you do less and get greater results?

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

PS. If you are aspire to become a better leader, subscribe to the blog (add your email address in the box in the upper right hand corner). Openly share anything I provide here. All content is free. I view this blog as an extension of my classroom. Enjoy!

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Dr. Gerdes is the Director of Graduate Programs in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.


Filed under Effectiveness, Motivation, Success

How the Rich Avoid Poverty.

I recently read a few articles that made me stop and think about the basic assumptions we hold about wealth and poverty.

Photo source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dollarnote_hq.jpg

Photo source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dollarnote_hq.jpg

 What the Rich Do

The first article was a remarkable piece by Dave Ramsey who created a list of the 20 Things the Rich Do Every Day.

I have provided the link above and directly quoted the list below:

1. 70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day. 23% of wealthy gamble. 52% of poor people gamble.

2. 80% of wealthy are focused on accomplishing some single goal. Only 12% of the poor do this.

3. 76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.

4. 63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% of poor people.

5. 81% of wealthy maintain a to-do list vs. 19% of poor.

6. 63% of wealthy parents make their children read two or more non-fiction books a month vs. 3% of poor.

7. 70% of wealthy parents make their children volunteer 10 hours or more a month vs. 3% of poor.

8. 80% of wealthy make Happy Birthday calls vs. 11% of poor.

9. 67% of wealthy write down their goals vs. 17% of poor.

10. 88% of wealthy read 30 minutes or more each day for education or career reasons vs. 2% of poor.

11. 6% of wealthy say what’s on their mind vs. 69% of poor.

12. 79% of wealthy network five hours or more each month vs. 16% of poor.

13. 67% of wealthy watch one hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% of poor.

14. 6% of wealthy watch reality TV vs. 78% of poor.

15. 44% of wealthy wake up three hours before work starts vs. 3% of poor.

16. 74% of wealthy teach good daily success habits to their children vs. 1% of poor.

17. 84% of wealthy believe good habits create opportunity luck vs. 4% of poor.

18. 76% of wealthy believe bad habits create detrimental luck vs. 9% of poor.

19. 86% of wealthy believe in lifelong educational self-improvement vs. 5% of poor.

20. 86% of wealthy love to read vs. 26% of poor.

It is a great list, but this is not the story I want to tell.

I decided to write this article because I stumbled over two other articles directly opposing Ramsey’s views. I found the first on CNN.com and the second on the Huffington Post.

A Defense of the Poor

In the first article, What Dave Ramsey Gets Wrong About Poverty,  Rachel Held Evans suggested that Ramsey had some common sense ideas, but then dispatched him with the following words:

One need not be a student of logic to observe that Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor.

For example, a poor person might not exercise four days a week because, unlike a rich person, she cannot afford a gym membership. Or perhaps she has to work two jobs to earn a living wage, which leaves her little time and energy for jogging around the park.

A poor family may eat more junk food, not because they are lazy and undisciplined, but because they live in an economically disadvantaged, urban setting where health food stores are not as available: a so-called “food desert.”

Evans then took Ramsey to task for overlooking systemic “injustices” before concluding that Ramsey’s approach is “uninformed,” and that “God does not divide the world into the deserving rich and the undeserving poor.” This is true, but God’s judgement of the poor was not Ramsey’s point. In her zeal to defend the poor, she missed the point. If the poor do these things, they would likely grow more wealthy.

A Defense of Poverty

In the second article, Here’s Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect SenseLinda Tirado wrote the following:

Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6AM, go to school (I have a full course load, but I only have to go to two in-person classes) then work, then I get the kids, then I pick up my husband, then I have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 12:30AM, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I’m in bed by 3. This isn’t every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr. Martini and see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork. Those nights I’m in bed by midnight…

When I got pregnant the first time, I was living in a weekly motel. I had a minifridge with no freezer and a microwave. I was on WIC. I ate peanut butter from the jar and frozen burritos because they were 12/$2….

I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be….

Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food.

Tirado’s article was personal. I appreciated her honesty.

As you can imagine, readers of the Huffington Post loved it (with 451,000 Facebook likes and 57,837 Facebook shares in a little over a month). Why? Perhaps it fit their narrative of how the world works:

  • The rich are greedy and they have luxury because they are rich.
  • The poor are poor because the system (racism, sexism, capitalism) keeps them down.

*Note:  Tirado received over $50,000 by people who read her piece and then generously donated to her.

Personal Responsibility

Ramsey talked about habits of the rich. In contrast, the other articles seemed to explain away why these habits would not work.

The key difference was responsibility and choice.

Lacking Responsibility

I was reminded of a passage in Life at the Bottom. Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, a British psychiatrist, discussed his observations of the worldview of the poor in prison in England. In one particularly poignant passage, he discussed the difference between these prisoners and the average person that he treated. The prisoners often spoke in a passive voice.

Instead of saying, “Then I stabbed him,” one of these poor inmates was far more likely to say, “and then the knife went in to him,” as if it was not propelled by his own hand. Such statements were lacking personal responsibility.

Poor prisoners in England are not alone. Not how Elliot Spitzer said the right words, but spoke in third person as he explained his actions on the Tonight Show:

Note how he said, “It [hubris] affected me,” not “I did it,” or “I had this type of hubris.” He was simply acted upon. He was “taking responsibility” without actually taking responsibility.

I have seen this phenomenon in my own experience as the Director of Graduate Programs in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. A student who makes excuses do not tend to last very long. However, another student with the exact same issue, who takes personal responsibility, generally weathers the storm.

Personal Responsibility vs. Structural Inequalities

From my perspective, Dave Ramsey is right.

Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern UniversityDo more of these things and you increasingly position yourself for greater success. It may not be direct causation, but the person who continues to do these things tends to prosper over time; a compounding effect begins to work in his favor.

Now, the critic may object that the system is stacked against the minorities, women, and those without because the real problem has to do with structural inequalities.

This may partially true. Certainly racists and sexists exist. In our capitalist system there are winners and losers. There is no doubt that the system works better for some than for others.

Yet, if I were a betting man, I would place my money on the poor female minority who engages in the behaviors Ramsey listed over the middle-class male Caucasian who engaged in the opposite behaviors. This would be to bet on personal responsibility over whatever “privilege” the critic thinks the system might provide the favored.

Personal responsibility eats privilege for breakfast.

Read the list again, and see if you disagree.

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

Dr. Gerdes is the Director of Graduate Programs in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.


Filed under Books, Effectiveness, Profitability, Success

What We Can Learn about Business From Disney.

On Christmas morning we had the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade on in the background as we relaxed at home.

The Magic Kingdom | What We can Learn about Business from Disney | Disney Christmas Parade

Photo Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Magic_Kingdom_castle.jpg

Disney is a Comprehensive System

I am always impressed with Disney as a business juggernaut.  I marveled as I watched my kids become more and more excited as each new character was introduced. As I considered what  was happening, I realized how brilliant Disney is for hosting this parade.

1. It is not like Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. It feels the same, but it is a wholly owned Disney production. Macy’s gets to say “Macy’s” repeatedly. Disney puts one Disney product after another out in front of you over the course of the two-hour program.

2. Disney has mastered vertical integration for the human being. They start with a “commercial free” morning on the Disney channel, which is also one large advertisement. Then you grow into the after school segment (remember Hannah Montana when she was a harmless pre-teen?)

As you get older, you have warm fuzzies  when you remember your childhood. When you have your own kids, you think the greatest thing you could do for your kid is take them to Disney for a vacation.

3. This integration was clear through the parade. Disney characters, movies, and resorts for various ages were highlighted. When the parade paused for commercials, Disney movies were front and center.

Disney Packages Advertising as Entertainment

4. Disney sells advertising as  entertainment. We would never have sat and watched a two-hour infomercial about Disney resorts, but because the characters are dancing down the street singing our favorite Christmas songs, we perceive it as a free show. They have graciously provided us this valuable walk down memory lane.

5. My focus group: As I wrote this post, my children  were cheering in the background “Oh, it’s Captian Hook!” and “Anna and Elsa, Anna and Elsa, Anna and Elsa!” (from the movie Frozen). Disney knows what it is doing.

Disney Uses Culture as Much as Systems

6. Everything my three-year-old daughter got for Christmas was in some way related to one of dozen or so Disney princesses. They own mind-share in the princess arena.

7. If you want to learn how Disney does it, I would recommend Lee Cockerell’s Creating Magic.

It is a great book that illuminates why Disney is so good at what it does.

Disney has a strategy, supported by a culture that produces iconic assets.  Every movie adds to their portfolio that make them stronger.

Thanks for taking time to read my musings about an iconic brand on my days off  for Christmas break.

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.

Dr. Gerdes is the Director of Graduate Programs in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.

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The Key to Effective Teamwork

Do you remember when you had group projects in college?

Why You Hate Teamwork

You probably hated it because a number of your teammates coasted while you did all the work. Worse, all received the same grade for your efforts. You probably thought your teammates were just lazy or irresponsible, but this is a common phenomenon called social loafing in the business literature. In economics, it is called the free rider problem.


File:Liffey College student 01.jpg

Some students worked hard as others doodled. A couple found group project meetings to be the perfect opportunity to flirt with someone new. A few never even showed up to the group meeting. You remember. This is why you still don’t like teamwork.

In my textbook I discussed the phenomenon as follows:

“Social loafing is treason against the group, and the loafer is a leech who drains the group of resources without returning equivalent to the group.  In a classroom setting, a social loafer ought to receive no mercy from his professor or the group he lets down.”

-(The Bottom Line in Leadership and Management)

These strongly worded  lines were a warning to my students to play nice with others, but I have since found a better way.

Why You Will Love Teamwork Again

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that I teach graduate students at Charleston Southern University. Last week I had one of those AHA moments that I relish.

After completing a particularly challenging class project, a student in her final semester mentioned in passing that this was her “best group project experience to date.” Remember, she was just about to graduate and she said that this was the best group experience she had.

Intrigued by the remark, I gave it some considerable thought.  Later and I suggested that “it was because you all came to it with the right attitude and spirit.” It was really that simple.

What was the Difference?

This was a class entitled Fundamentals of Leadership, and the very nature of the course forced students to think deeply about their motivations and attitudes. The were individually thinking about becoming the kind of leaders that others would want to follow. When they came together with servant-leadership foremost in their minds, they acted accordingly.

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

The “all chiefs and no indians” attitude disappeared. No one tried to play CEO of Group Project, Inc. Everyone showed up and pulled their own weight. They served  voluntarily, without cajoling each other to get the work done. A number of students even described the experience as “enjoyable.”

The parameters of the class project were no different than in other classes. Moreover, it was not because they were focused on the mission. There was no conscious effort on the part of anyone in the class to rally around a mission. The difference was that they each aspired to become the kind of  leader that they know they should be.

What about you? In your project teams, do your colleagues come to serve the group or do they try to do the least they can to get by? 

Wouldn’t this kind of attitude be refreshing in your office?

-Darin Gerdes

PS – There is no magic to this process. As the professor, I mold the discussion, but the core of this thinking comes from the books students read for class: Lead Like Jesus, The Steward Leader, The Leadership Challenge, and Leadership and Self-Deception. Incidentally, these are 4 of my Top Ten Leadership books.

Want to read more about excellence in teamwork? Read the related post:  What Navy SEALS Can Teach Us About Teamwork.


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of Graduate Programs in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.


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Be a Carrot, Not an Orange

It is quite common for professors to tell students to be well rounded. This wellintentioned advice is misguided.


I am going to argue that instead of being well-rounded, like an orange, you should strive to be deep like a carrot.

Shouldn’t I Be Well Rounded?

Yes and No. While it is true that a liberal arts education provides a stronger foundation from which to think and reason, educators tend to misapply the principle by taking it too far. The argument is often used to chastise children for low grades in subjects where they have little aptitude. We are all equal before God, but God has granted each of us different skills and abilities.

For example, I enjoy reading and I like to write, but I would rather leave accounting to someone else. The good news is that THAT IS OK.

I do not have to do everything equally well in order to get ahead in the world. Being well rounded—being equally proficient in math, writing, speaking, athletics, science, and foreign languages—is a pipe dream. The ideal of a Renaissance man is impressive precisely because such a man is uncommon.


More importantly, the evidence shows that this approach is a poor strategy for success. The time that I spend ensuring basic  competence in an area in which I struggle might be better spent becoming an expert in an area where I have natural aptitude. Greatness comes from depth in a particular area, not being average in all areas.

The principle of comparative advantage suggests that I should do the thing I do best and you should do the thing you do best. Then we trade and everyone is better off. Rather than struggle through the most difficult tasks, comparative advantage frees us to spend our energy on things we do well.

More to the point, humans only tend to do well in endeavors that they enjoy and these are usually areas where they have some natural ability.

 “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”

– Jack Welch


How the World Really Works

Get your MBA Now from Charleston Southern UniversityRemember the principle of comparative advantage? In the real world, people are valuable when they have deep expertise and enough general knowledge to provide useful application of that deep knowledge.

Experts know a little about a lot and a lot about a little.

You will need to follow this strategy if you are to give your best at work. Moreover, it is liberating to know that you do not to have to do everything well. Most people are simply not capable of such demands.

My Advice

Be a carrot, not an orange. Forget being well rounded. If you want to be a success, determine your strengths and grow deep.

How To Determine Your Strengths

Marcus Buckingham has written a number of books that teach people how to recognize their strengths. His books include:

Trombone Player WantedI can heartily recommend all of these books, but the message was  most clearly explained in his video series entitled Trombone Player Wanted . I have used this video in class because it drives the message that you will excel when you find your calling and offer that to the world (highly recommended).

So what about you? Are you an orange or a carrot? If you are an orange, how can you become more like a carrot?

Darin Gerdes, Ph. D.


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.

Note: If you purchase Standout, please be sure to purchase a new copy. The book comes with a strengths test and a code to take the test which may have been used in a used copy.

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Why Some People Are Almost Always Successful.

Last night I could not sleep, so I decided to watch the pilot episode of the original Star Trek series.

Star Trek


I was surprised by what I witnessed:

  • Kirk was not the Captain. Captain Pike was in charge and the only recognizable character was Mr. Spock–no Bones, Scotty, or Sulu.
  • The special effects were awful (e.g. rocks on the planet surface looked like paper mache from the set of a middle school play).
  • It was fairly risqué for the time (this was 45 years ago).

The pilot was almost comically bad. Mercifully, it was not included in the original TV series. If it had been, I would not have been inclined to watch further. However, over the next four decades, they improved every dimension–plot, acting, and special effects.

If A Thing Is Worth Doing…

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badlyIt has been said that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. There is wisdom in this. You should put forth your best effort. But another perspective is just as important.

In, What’s Wrong with the World, G. K. Chesterton said, that “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” That’s right–badly.

You don’t have to be an expert or the best in your field in order attempt to do a thing. In fact, you have to do it badly before you are good enough to do it well (e.g. love letters, parenting, your calling).

MBA CHARLESTON SOUTHERN UNIVERSITYWhen I was in high school, I asked my track coach how to run faster. Coach Soranno looked me in the eye and said, “run faster.” He was right. The more you do it, the more capacity you develop. It is like lifting weights and the same principle operates in other areas of life.

talent is overrated

As the research shows in books like Geoff Colvin’s  Talent is Overrated and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, world-class performers in any field practice more than others. We would like to believe that greatness is due to a particular innate genius, but practice is really the key to success.

What Do You Want To Do?

Do you want to write books? Start blogging. Do you want to teach? How about volunteering to teach a Sunday school class. Want to beat the markets? Practice trading with a free virtual stock fund. Whatever it is, start.

Don’t worry about doing it badly. Over time, you will improve. Remember, it is not where you start, it is where you finish. Take the first step now.

-Darin Gerdes, Ph.D.


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.

Star TrekNote: If you are interested, you can watch the Star Trek pilot on Amazon for $1.99 (Free with a 1 month trial of Amazon Prime) or you can watch it on Netflix (Free month trial).


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University


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