Ted “Chickman” Murray and other heroes of the working man

After college I worked at a genetics company in New Hampshire, called “Hubbard farms” that was a subsidiary of Merck (at the time). Hubbard’s goal was to make the next best chicken!

As part of the operation, there was a big hatchery, from which chicks would be sent to customers all over the North East of the US and parts of Canada. Ted Murray aka “Chickman” was a driver. Ted worked for the company for 40 years. He loved his job and being part of the company was important to him. Although drivers don’t make a lot of money, compared to say doctors or lawyers, Ted had worked for the company for so long and had so much Merck stock that he was set for life.

Naturally, based on his age and financial security, the idea of retirement was broached. While I was there they were negotiating with Ted to try to get him to take this step but he was resisting it. Finally, they came up with a deal where he would retire, albeit reluctantly. I remember his party at the hatchery.

Within the month, Ted was dead (1)

Come Hell or high water

While I was working at this same company, I would hear stories about this other guy, I don’t remember his name. But he also worked at the company for more than 40 years. During this time he only had one sick/personal day. But in fact, in reality he never had a full sick day but only had 2 1/2 sick/personal days

In one case, he went to his brother’s funeral. So that counted for 1/2 a day

In another case, he was caught on the Vermont side of a flooded Connecticut river, and Hubbard was on the New Hampshire side. The bridge, that you would typically take, was closed. A normal person would just turn around and go home. This guy commandeered a boat and set it off near the bridge in an attempt to cross. He finally did make it across the raging waters to the other side but by the time he did, he was several miles downstream and had to work his way back to the bridge, then hitch a ride to work. By the time he arrived at work, it was lunch time and he was docked 1/2 personal day.

I’ve always been inspired by guys like these. They didn’t create a billion dollar company, get listed on the New York Stock Exchange or invent some amazing product. They were just guys who got up and put their pants on one leg at a time, day after day for 40+ years. They loved their work for the sake of it. They loved the grind. When I look for inspiration, in my work, I don’t think of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. I think of Ted “Chickman” Murray

(1) You can imagine my reaction when I hear people refer to me as retired 😉


Top 15 things you must do to get promoted

Credits to Marcus Chan

This is an amazing list/share that I wanted to save for posterity sake.

“If you want to get promoted, here are 15 things you must do to increase your odds:

1. Do your job extraordinarily well in every aspect. This means EVERYTHING including the things you don’t want to do.

2. Do MORE than your job-take on projects and assignments that provide VALUE to your boss and team.

3. Self educate for skills that you need for your next role and 3-5 years from now.

4. Treat EVERYONE like they’ll be your boss one day.

5. Help OTHERS become successful aka DUPLICATE yourself.

6. Be patient-timing is half the battle.

7. Invite yourself to meetings to learn and for exposure.

8. Fail forward. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough.

9. Seek feedback laterally, above, and below you-then execute on that feedback.

10. Be loyal.

11. Influence up and make your boss look good.

12. Be a positive teammate!

13. Be you, authentic, and real.

14. Build your brand with ALL levels of the organization.

15. Do NOT brown nose.”


Fix the damn truck

I’m fascinated by the concept of work, what people do, how they do it, what makes someone successful and someone else not so much. I’m always looking at people through the lens of their approach to their vocation. If they are successful, I’m looking for clues to what they do right. If they aren’t, they can be useful as anti-patterns for behaviors, approaches to avoid

I have a 2nd cousin in Maine, the son of my cousin, who is held up locally as a successful guy. He is in his mid 30’s and drives a truck for a living. He owns his own vehicles and runs it as an independent business. Lot’s of people drive trucks in Maine. On the surface it seems like a simple job. But why are some more successful at it, significantly so in some cases, than others?

The first thing you notice is Caleb’s truck is spotless. It has no dents or scratches, but it is also washed and clean. As I was admiring it, one thing he said to me was “When my truck breaks, I won’t stop until it gets fixed. In other words, when it breaks I’m gonna fix the damn truck”. This means he will work on it in the middle of the night, on a weekend, in the middle of a blizzard etc. But he will focus on that task until it is done. I thought to myself, this essentially sums this guy up and everything about his success. When his truck breaks, he fixes it. Not later, not tomorrow, not waiting for whatever reason, but right then, in place, no matter the conditions. It isn’t difficult to understand. It’s not complicated. That’s it.

How many people do you know who roll out of the office at 5 PM with a task not completed, a customer waiting for a reply, a build not deployed, a bug not fixed. Now think of the people who commit to finish the job, no matter if they must stay late. Now track the success of those people over time and watch the two groups diverge.

Drive through Maine and you can see beat up trucks sitting in a yard, with beer cans in the driveway. What stops that person from taking some pride in their work horse, that their livelihood depends on? What compels someone like Caleb to lie on the frozen ground, in the middle of the night with a flashlight to make sure his rig can roll out at 6 AM the next morning?

Whatever the difference in motivation, the results are clear. We see it every day. The people who keep their rigs shiny and running smooth make it happen, day in and day out. That is the person I want to be. Those are the people I want to work with.


Be the first in, the last to leave

I’ve been fortunate to be successful, but my cash didn’t always stack right

Golf by moonlight

30 years ago, I had just gotten out of the Army and started a new job in New Hampshire. I had picked up golf as a hobby and used to go down to the local golf course to hit balls on the chipping green, as that was free. Then when the sunset and everyone had left the course, I would sneak on and play a few holes before it got too dark, again because that was also free.

One evening, as the crowd thinned out and I made my way down to the first hole, I saw a lone golfer coming back from the 9th. This peaked my interest, as I had never seen someone golfing so late, besides myself of course!

He noticed me looking at him, and changed direction to walk towards me. He greeted me and introduced himself and invited me to have a beer, out of the back of his car as the sun faded away.

Lessons shared

He was a traveling salesman who had a customer in Keene, NH, and was just passing through. He asked me what I was doing for work and what my goals were. He talked a bit about his career and what he had done to become successful. Then he leaned over to me and said something I’ll never forget, and always tried to live by.

“Kid, if you want to be successful …

be the first one in the office in the morning, and the last to leave at night”

Lessons applied

Now, I was always a hard worker but did take me a little time to get my groove on (See this article for some of my antics at the time), but I leaned into that advice, got traction with it, it became a habit and eventually helped to drive my success.

At my next company, in Boston, I got over-time for coming in early. I showed up 1 and a 1/2 hours early to collect tickets for the trading floor and then left at the regular time all while getting my Masters degree at night. I did this for a year until I was flagged for excessive pay! Later, I went exempt so I could work as much as I wanted to, without being chased out of the office for concern about over-time. After that, I started my own one many consultancy, and billed a high of 70 hours 3 weeks over the course of my 5 year run, and that included a 1 hour commute on either end. In fact, the biggest challenge for me, was when I left my last job and went down to 0 hours. I’ve been too busy and not busy enough. I’ll take the former anytime.

Use case

I had a team member a few years ago who was struggling. His results were poor. But he was taking a bus to commute 30 minutes to the office, staying for 10 hours or more, and then taking the same bus home. The only reason why he wasn’t the last person to leave the office was because I was sleeping there! (using it as a field-expedient hotel room as this was a remote location).

I could tell one night that he was upset and wanted to talk to me about something. It was made more challenging by the fact that he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Serbian, and the last person who could translate had left some time ago. But the gist of it was he was worried about being fired. I told him that, first, his results would improve, and not to worry. But second, even if they didn’t, I would never fire him, regardless of his results, because of his work ethic. He was the first guy in and the last guy out.

Sure enough, after a few months his results did improve. Later he went on to become one of our best analysts in the company, and for a guy who didn’t even know English when he arrived, went on to write amazing content that has been hugely successful. (among many other things he does i.e. product support, testing etc)


This isn’t a long post. It doesn’t need to be. Sometimes the most important lessons are the simplest, delivered by a stranger who took the time to share, … over a cold beer at a New Hampshire golf course at night …


Iron jaws and the ability to accept constructive critisism


I had this guy working for me, to mask his identity let’s call him Adam. I can safety say that he was the “worst” guy that I had worked with in 20 years of running a software company

He …

  • Made the same mistakes over and over again
  • Failed to follow instructions properly
  • Didn’t think through things before he did them
  • Didn’t review his work or anything else before it was published
  • Didn’t plan out his work, make check-lists or refine protocols

My day would frequently begin with seeing some critical and obvious mistake he made and then call him up to, once again, admonish him and try to get him to correct his ways.

I would begin many conversations with the question “Are you going to quit?”. Because if he was, he could at least have done it then, saving us another torturous session of feedback. His answer was always “No, Brian”.

My philosophy on terminations was to terminate for Values problems, not mistakes, and if the employee exhibited at least some of our core values and was expending effort and working hard, to not terminate. In fact, in all of my years, I have never fired anyone, no matter how bad, if they were working hard. And I’ve never regretted that decision.

Fucking up

Over time, and I mean quite a bit of time, mistakes began to be diminished, but more importantly Adam internalized my feedback and transferred it to new team members, who were able to learn and progress faster because of it.

Throughout this process, the mistakes that Adam didn’t make were that he never …

  • personalized feedback. He took constructive criticism in the spirit it was given, no matter how harshly it was delivered
  • got defensive, talked back, argued or ever demonstrated any “attitude”
  • slowed down. He continued to work hard throughout
  • Made excuses or equivocated e.g. I ran out of time, it wasn’t my fault, it could be worse etc
  • said “Sorry”. Apologizing doesn’t help anyone or anything and just wastes time. He seemed to innately understand this, so I never had to waste time listening to apologies, allowing us to just focus on fixing the problem

I refer to Adam’s actions as “Fucking up” vs “Fucking down”

Too many times I see people react negatively to constructive criticism which essentially precludes their ability to grow and ultimately succeed. Also, I’m generally not interested in mentoring someone who is resistant to feedback, nor, for that matter, working with them. Such people have “glass jaws”. They shatter into many pieces when you criticize them. Adam had an “iron jaw”. He could take any feedback, no matter how tough, and not wilt in the face of it, let alone fall to pieces.

“Turning good”

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Adam grew, progressed and developed to a level where I was able to not only stop admonishing him on a daily basis but begin to validate his growth and progress, a process I call “Turning good”. This culminated in him being promoted to a full Level I analyst, no easy feat in our company. His work continues to improve and progress to this day and can be seen in the amazing results of the content marketing effort driven by him and his team.

Adam didn’t turn into the “best” guy I ever worked with, but his success stories are one of the best that I experienced in my career. Nobody was prouder of him getting promoted than I was

Time wasted vs invested

I spent a ton of time with Adam. He invested a ton of time himself. But his actions and the fact that he didn’t quit (and I didn’t fire him) turned what could have very well been wasted time, into simply time invested and in fact, well invested.

Failure vs success

If at any point during this process, Adam had quit, he would have failed. And I would have failed as a leader, mentor, boss. But the fact that he didn’t quit, meant that he never actually failed. And he continued long enough avoiding failure, that he eventually succeeded.

Other lessons learned

  • Take constructive criticism, no matter how tough, objectively and not personally
  • Remember that when a boss is criticizing you it isn’t because they don’t like you, it is because they are trying to help you (applies to good bosses only)
  • When you are taking heat, keep working through it and if you are successful, you may emerge successful in the long term
  • Never get defensive, argue, talk back or demonstrate an attitude. That will make a bad situation worse
  • Keep your eye on long term success
  • Remember the saying “No pain. No gain”. It is true in many situations
  • You don’t fail if you don’t quit
  • Stay true to company values, no matter what, and that will guide you to eventual success

Have gun, will travel – the true story of Dick Dunnington

Dick Dunnington volunteered (you read that right) for 3 tours of Vietnam, as a military intelligence officer, but wouldn’t breathe a word of what he did there, even though I asked him about 5x a day [1]. He worked hard his whole life and, not being able to have kids of his own, adopted two foster children. He was punctual, responsible and a man of his word. He lived precisely by the letter of his contracts.

Even though he was a warrior, he valued peace, character, integrity, and honesty (remember, those?). Even though he fought a war and lost friends, he wasn’t bitter. Even when he was laid off and out of work for 3 years, he never didn’t wake up at 6 AM every morning and fill his day with productive activities (he eventually bounced back as a consultant – see below).

His politics were as true as his character. We had similar backgrounds, in some ways, as I was a veteran myself, but different politics. Despite our different political persuasions, we ultimately agreed on the same candidate at the time. It was an era where people who disagreed could still talk with each other, and even, sometimes agree. Remember those days?

The big Boom, Boom

A funny story Dick told me once, was when his convoy was moving through some road in Vietnam and the kids, from a local village, who were standing along the road watching them, all suddenly put their fingers in their ears. It seems they were expecting a big Boom, Boom, a clear, albeit unwitting, indicator that they were about to roll into some trouble! 😉 The kids knew what was going to happen, the soldiers did too, but all the patrol could do was reach down and squeeze, in anticipation of the fireworks that would ensue, unable to stop, change course or turn around.

I’ve thought of that so many times at work. How many of us have been in the same situation? I call it “the Big Boom, Boom”

Out of luck, out of work

Dick, like seemingly 50% of Massachusetts at the time, worked for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). I thought he was old at 50 … oops, the same age I am now! If Dilbert was a human being, he would be it (and that is a compliment). He talked like what you would think a mathematician would talk like. Despite, these admirable qualities, Dick was laid off (eventually along with everyone else at DEC). Dick had a solid position in middle management and his pride and principles wouldn’t allow him to take a job for less than he had at DEC. So he was out of work for a year … then two … then three. Sure, he kept busy. He worked his land in New Hampshire with some heavy equipment he had, but three years is a long time to nurse your ego and turn your nose up to lesser opportunities. So finally, he realized it was time to change.


Wait, what was that little word? Ego? Opportunities? No, change. That is why I emphasized it.

• If something isn’t working, you have to change
• If you are tired of beating your head against the wall, you have to change
• If you have hit rock bottom and there is nowhere to go but up, you have to change
• If you are unhappy, unfulfilled, un[fill in the blank]ed or you simply want to grow and improve, you have to change

No change role play

You: Ok, change … I get it. Easy. What do I have to do?

Me: Really? Are you ready to do this? OK … take all the stuff you are doing now and do it all differently. Stop doing the things you are doing now. Start doing things you haven’t been doing. And for things you should keep doing, do them differently. That is all

You: Whoa … let’s not get crazy here. Sure, I want to break out of my current pattern, but I really have to do things differently? No, that seems a bit extreme. That’s a deal-breaker to me. Instead, let me just sit around a bit more and just hope things get better.

There is a great book that covers this topic really well. It is called “Who moved my cheese”. Go to Amazon, buy it, read it, internalize it. It will change your life. I’ve talked to people who I recommended that book to who I still hear from and thank me for the recommendation. It will take you about 30 minutes, to read it, including a coffee break. So if you haven’t done it, do it.

Change role play

Instead, let’s try this again …

You: Ok, I get it.

Me: Good. Let’s look at some patterns in your life that you can alter to create the foundation for more fundamental change. It starts with going to bed early, waking up early, getting out of the house (even if you have nowhere to go), eating right, detoxing from alcohol, sugar, crap food, drugs, computer games, porn, illicit sex, social media, excuses, self-pity, pride, self-deprecating thoughts, self-destructive behaviors, etc, and forcing yourself to engage in wellness activities like meeting with friends, exercise, reading. music etc.

You: Ok, I can do that

Me: OK, great. I’ll be checking on you to make sure you are! Once you have committed to that and we have the beginnings of a solid foundation, let’s plan the next steps to alter and improve the trajectory of your life.

You: Great, let’s do this thing!

Have gun, will travel

Getting some of these die-hard “older” guys to make changes in life, is a challenge, but that is what Dick undertook. He decided that at 50 years old, he would change his stripes and become a technical consultant. The only problem was that he didn’t know a damn thing about technology, except perhaps mainframes and other water-cooled computer systems.

Undeterred, he went down to the local bookstore and went to the technology aisle. As the books were arranged in alphabetical order, the first topics were for “A”. He grabbed the first book he saw which was on Microsoft Access. Bought it, took it home, read it. Then he bought a copy of Access, installed it, and started to apply the principles he learned from the book. Once he was comfortable, he hung up his shingle, “Dick Dunnington – Microsoft Access Consultant” aka “Have gun, will travel” – an old Wild West American TV show.

He introduced himself to various agencies who were more impressed with Dick’s presence and aura of professionalism and responsibility than he many years of experience with this technology (as he had none). Soon enough he was hired for his first consulting assignment at $40/hr, then his next at $45, then his next … By the time I met him he was at $50 and ready to level up again.[2]

In a few short weeks, Dick decided to get off of his backhoe, change his entire profession and approach, invest in doing the things he needed to do to achieve this transformation, and systematically move forward to execute his plan.


The last time I spoke to Dick he was complaining of too many people contacting him for work assignments. I commiserated with him and we both went about our lives. I always told myself that someday, when I had a little time, I’d write down some reflections of this man, who made such an impression on me.

Dick, if you or your kids, wife, etc. ever find this, I want you to know I appreciated your leading by example, and I always found inspiration in your story.

For others out there, if you are stuck in a rut, as we all get from time to time, perhaps you can also gain some inspiration from this story as well.


[1] He was under a bunch of security restrictions about his duties, missions, etc although I would have expected those to have eventually expired …

[2] These are rates from 20+ years ago

(p) Photo credit – https://www.metv.com/shows/have-gun-will-travel


Successful habit forming experiment

I found this article today and it looks really good. It demonstrates *scientifically proven* ways to create new habits, that work and also covers some (somewhat surprising ones) that don’t.

We studied the best way to actually make a new habit stick.

This works

Habit Reflection has three simple steps:

■ Pick a past situation where you were able to successfully change your long-term behavior or create a new habit.
■ Write down anything you learned from this past situation about how to successfully form new habits or any tactics you used to help make this change that could apply to your new habit.
■ Create a brief written plan for applying those lessons to your new habit.

This doesn’t

■ rewarding yourself for practicing the habit
■ coming up with a strategy for restarting the habit if you lapse
■ visualizing yourself performing the habit
■ using a motivational phrase when your energy or motivation flags

I will follow this in trying to create a new habit

Pick a past situation where you were able to successfully change your long-term behavior or create a new habit.

In my former company, we created a habit that was both effective, and kind of fun, for me. Instead of admonishing people when they made a mistake, and then otherwise not doing anything about it, I used a “X days without a mistake” system to increase awareness of our quality.

We did it for the individuals and not the team (this was one tweak). When a mistake occurred, rather than admonish, scold, etc I just noted the mistake, in a constructive manner, and reset the counter. Each day I asked the team to post their quality stats along with goals, completed tasks, etc. A mistake counter would look like this: 6 / 23. This means that, currently, the person has 6 days without a mistake and their max period was 23

The team really bought into it and I do think that it both raised awareness of quality and improved it. It was a simple and effective system, that didn’t take me any time to manage. It showed both absolute (mistake vs no mistake) and relative performance (vs other team members). Team members were more aware of potential mistakes, take more time with tasks and otherwise look to improve quality to stretch out their counters. Over time we had more mistake-free days and longer counters, which provided an opportunity for validation and praise, which ultimately improved quality and morale.

Write down anything you learned from this past situation about how to successfully form new habits or any tactics you used to help make this change that could apply to your new habit.

I changed it from a team count, where one mistake from the team would reset the counter for the whole team to 0, to an individual counter. With 3 people in the team, you were very likely to never accrue many days without a mistake. Also, this tended to mask the differences between higher quality and lower quality individuals. I do think it is important to think as a team but to also allow individual performance to be made transparent

We added the second counter to provide some inspiration and motivation e.g. “I hit 20 before and that is my goal this time” or “Damn, I reset to 0 today … but my stats still show the strength of a long run I had, so I still have that.

Create a brief written plan for applying those lessons to your new habit.

I need to create a counter that resets my days if I fail to do any one of these things

  • Go to the gym
  • Play my musical instrument (Banjo) for 1 hour
  • Drink a glass of water in the AM
  • Write a blog post
  • Perform one act of kindness
  • Avoid drinking alcohol on weekdays (weekend drinking only)

Another habit…

I’m also working on a habit to drink a glass of water daily, first thing in the morning. Today’s glass was featured in this article’s picture!