I became an entrepreneur in 1972 when I started a Grit Newspaper route, some 60-plus loyal customers strong.
I was rich. Who needed a bank? I had my clip-on money changer that held quarters, dimes, and nickels. Life was great until I started hanging out with friends at Lahnam’s Cafe when my route was over. Then my money started disappearing.
You see, I had a seductress (yeah, even at 12).
The 12-Year-Old Who Became Intoxicated with a Pinball Machine
I finished my weekly route each Thursday around 2:45 p.m. Charlie and Jim would be at Lanham’s, and I wanted to hang out with them afterwards. They were older, and it wasn’t cool to let a younger kid tag along.
But I was different–I had the money changer. So I was accepted. Besides, my dad was bigger than Jim’s dad.
For a while, I was disciplined. Just one Coke (it was probably Double Cola–back then, soda pop was a Coke). Otherwise, I was a miser. No, check that. I was miserly. Whatever.
And then she caught my eye. Love at first sight. She was beautiful, lights and all. She was the newest hit at Lahnam’s Cafe.
As I approached her, I gave her my first quarter. I was hooked. And, you probably need to know that I was painfully shy. The heck with shyness, I was aggressive. Nothing would get in my way. Nothing!
Pinball Machines – Such a Waste of Money
I had spent my profits, all of them. I’m estimating $2.50 or slightly more that first day. To make matters worse, I ate into the money needed to buy next week’s papers. Mom wasn’t going to like this.
Looking back, the answer is obvious. My favorite part of the experience was the ball ricocheting back and forth, causing the bumpers to light up and release pulsating ringing sounds delightful to those young ears.
It was mesmerizing. I wasn’t sure what to look at, the ball zigzagging from bumper to bumper, or the back of the machine which kept flipping the digits of the scoreboard so fast you couldn’t even track it.
Like I said, it was intoxicating. Another quarter, then another, and another. Heck, I had the change machine. I was a bottomless coin pit, or so it seemed.
So What’s a Pinball CEO?
Periodically, I’ll work with a CEO who reminds me of that pinball machine sucking so many quarters from me, the same quarters that kept my baseball card collection from growing.
What I mean is they’ll go to one business seminar, then a monthly CEO workshop, then an industry benchmarking group, then rinse and repeat. There’s more–business books, audio courses, online courses. Rinse and repeat.
These are the CEOs that are intoxicated with learning and knowledge. They want more. They can’t get enough.
I pity the staff of those CEOs. Heck, I even pity the CFOs serving these CEOs. We start on one initiative only for it to be replaced by the newest flavor of the month.
In short, the pinball CEO is the person who keeps bouncing back and forth from idea to idea. That silver ball bearing is the CEO. The bumpers represent new ideas, new concepts, new flavors of the month.
There’s Certainly Nothing Wrong with CEO Professional Development
Personally, I take learning seriously at my advanced age of 50-something. I’m usually taking at least one to two courses at any one time. Currently, I’m taking a course in Sabermetrics and another in Ruby on Rails, but I do so for relaxation and to keep my mind challenged.
I’m very guarded with my learning. I know that whatever I learn, I’ll forget it in 3 to 4 days unless I apply it. Even then, I need to keep applying my learning, or I’ll lose it. So I try to keep my focus narrow from year to year when it comes to my reading and learning program.
I’m reminded of Watson’s observation of Sherlock Holmes that he knew very little of literature, philosophy, and politics.
I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.
Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that this little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent.
Depend upon it, there comes a time when for any addition of knowledge, you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones. Sherlock Holmes
Be Strategic with Your Professional Development
Most CEOs lead a strategic planning exercise each year. Consider the same for your learning and professional development. That goes for learning, workshops, everything. Consider a theme for the year. That keeps your learning focused. You’ll be more likely to retain and apply what you hear.
Here are a few more ideas:
1. Go on business book diet and read nothing but biographies, history, and philosophy. You will be amazed at the insights you will gain from reading non-business books.
As I write this, I have just finished Unbroken. Two weeks earlier, I completed Boys in the Boat. These books are inspiring, moving, and thought-provoking. When I’m having a bad day, I’ll always think of what Louie Zamperini endured as a prisoner of war. My problems will never compare to his. He is now a source of inspiration. The newest leadership book can never match these great biographies.
2. Cut back on some of those CEO groups. One is fine. Try ditching the others for just one year. Note if your business performance drops. If so, make adjustments.
3. I’m reminded of a Pat Flynn podcast talking about just in time learning. The concept is simple. Learn what you need to know today. Forget the shotgun approach. Just in time learning keeps you from wasting time on topics you’ll never get around to applying.
4. Most importantly, seek input from a business coach asking him/her if they think focus is a problem for you and your business. My observation is that pinball CEOs have a hard time staying on topic and keeping an eye on their true north. The reasoning is simple–too many ideas are being chased.
Stay Focused, Even with Your Learning
An old German proverb states, “Who begins too much accomplishes little.”
In short, stay focused in the area of professional development. The pinball machine robbed me of my quarters.
Too many avenues for learning can be robbing you of your precious time. You also run the risk of distracting your team and the course you charted earlier towards one or two key objectives for the year.
Be better than that 12-year-old who gave in to a foolish machine. You are not a pinball CEO.
Rest in peace Lanham’s Cafe. I miss your burgers and fries. I accept that I gave you a small fortune, so be it.
As I turn back the pages of time, my biggest regret is giving away that little coin changing machine that I wore proudly on my belt during those Thursday paper routes.
Rest in peace, Lanham’s Cafe.