business, career, leadership

Book Review – Great Work

Recently I read “Great Work – How to Make a Difference People Love,” by David Sturt. I think a good short summary of this book would be:

Think of your work from the perspective of those it serves, and you can make a big difference in their lives.

I thought the book had a noble purpose, and did a nice job of explaining how to capture that purpose in both “spirit” (intangible ways) and “process” (tangible ways). For a short read, it was able to effectively be both an inspiring-type book as well as provide some practical how-to information. I find that often business and leadership books are a bit too skewed to one end of that spectrum or the other.

While I probably couldn’t easily memorize some of the chapter-specific lists of recommended action steps, the book is an easy reference guide with chapter-ending summaries and suggestions. And more importantly, the key philosophical ideals of the book are actually quite easy to remember:

  1. Anyone’s work can make a difference if we re-frame and re-think what the work really is.
  2. To do #1, think of your work from the perspective of those the work serves.

The key point is that we should view our work from “outside” of ourselves and our work. “Of course” we think of our work (let’s pretend we are a “lowly” accountant for a moment) as an endless repetition of month-end journal entries which are never quite good enough for our boss. But if we can get out of our situation mentally and re-think our work, perhaps we would realize that we are a crucial piece of the process that allows our company to raise capital and communicate with it’s stakeholders, and companies that do that well win in the marketplace. As my favorite story from the book goes, if a hospital janitor can think of himself as a caregiver, you can think differently about your job.

The bulk of the book is five chapters discussing tangible steps a difference-maker does, and that you can walk through, to achieve the objective of making a difference. I think the most relevant for the most people is in the area of process – we are almost all part of several processes in our work, and any process I’ve ever been a part of could use some improving. So if you want to be more valuable at work, I always think learning how to improve processes and doing it regularly is a good way to go.

But even in these five chapters/steps, I appreciate the author’s focus outward. We are just way too often stuck in our own bubble at work, and the key to making a difference is seeing and hearing from others how our work is impacting them and their ideas, and engaging in lots of dialog about how to identify areas for improvements and then make improvements.

Let’s frame a different evolution than the book gave us, but based on the principles. Let’s:

  • Move from “I want to do good work”
  • To “I want to do GREAT work.”
  • To “I want to do great work FOR this [team/department/company/government/other entity].”
  • And ultimately to “I want to do great work for this entity WITH you [your teammates, bosses, customers, partners, etc.] and FOR you.”


Start by grabbing “Great Work” for yourself, it’s a quick and easy read and I think you will get a nice return on your investment.

fun, leadership, leisure

Summer Reading List

In case it sparks any ideas or interest, here is what is on my summer reading list. I broke it up by more “casual” (for fun, for me, but everyone’s definition of “fun” is different) and more “learning” books. As the summer goes on, look for reports on these books as I finish them.

I’ve already read:

  • “The Reagan Diaries,” edited by Douglas Brinkley. See my separate post about this book.
  • “A Loving Approach to Dementia Care,” by Laura Wayman. This is a book for learning purposes, given my mom’s dementia. We saw Laura speak at the place my mom lives, and she was inspiring – giving caregivers ways to manage their own stress and better interact with their loved ones with dementia.

Next up for fun:

  • “The First 100: Portraits of the Men and Women Who Shaped Las Vegas,” edited by A.D. Hopkins and K.J. Evans. Self-explanatory title, and given that I am born and raised in Las Vegas I want to see how many of these I knew about and catching some nuggets that I didn’t know.
  • Models for Writers. I picked this up last year at Main Street Books, a used book store in Cedar City, Utah. I figured it might yield some improvements to my writing, but I tried to start it last year and didn’t get far, as it’s rather technical. Will try again this summer.
  • “The Informant,” by Kurt Eichenwald. The story of the FBI’s investigation of the Archer Daniels Midland company in the 90s.
  • “Setting the Table,” by Danny Meyer. The founder of Shake Shack and some of the finest restaurants in America, on the art of hospitality.
  • “Caddyshack, the Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story,” by Chris Nashawaty. One of my favorite movies of all time, let’s see what went on behind the scenes.

Next up for learning:

  • “Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love,” by David Sturt. I have always thought that work should be much more meaningful than the paycheck earned; you should love what you do and how you do it and who you work with. Looking for further inspiration in this book, which I’ve read once before.
  • “Measure What Matters,” by John Doerr. Not sure exactly what it’s about, but it was on Bill Gates’ reading list so that’s good enough for me.
  • “Half Time,” by Bob Buford. A discussion of mid-life career transitions and to make sure the remaining work years are fulfilling and meaningful. Goes with my first selection above, “Great Work.”
  • “The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Feed Your Life, Work and Team with Positive Energy,” by Jon Gordon. As you know from my blog post series on negative self-talk, this is an area that fascinates me, and I’m always looking for ways to infuse everything within me and around me with positive energy.

And one more from the past that is a great summer read for you: “Shoe Dog,” by Phil Knight. Just a great view into the mind and life of an entrepreneur.


leadership, leisure, personal

Fresh air and sunshine

Fresh air – being outdoors – is something many people might take for granted. Others, like those that live in big cities, may have forgotten how life-giving fresh air can be. I suppose I’m in the middle somewhere; but I definitely spend enough time inside to often find myself yearning for the outdoors.

 I think back to when I was a child, and before the large-scale adoption of video games. We spent every possible minute outside, from the moment we got out of school until the evening, and all day in the summers. Everything we did for recreation was physical, and most of it was outdoors. Being older the heat gets to me now but back then we went straight through the Vegas summers, morning to night.

Contrast to the current day. Last year during my annual physical, the doctor told me I was Vitamin D-deficient. He was essentially saying I wasn’t spending enough time in the sun. Ah, lost youth!!

SIDEBAR – I told this to a friend recently, and then reaffirmed what I told them was actually true: that vitamin D is sourced from exposure to the sun. My friend asked, reasonably I think, “How does the sun give you vitamins?” Turns out, it’s an interesting story, including that it’s reasonable to conclude that Vitamin D isn’t a vitamin at all. You can see the details here:

OK, if you skipped the sidebar, or not, the point is we all need Vitamin D, and we all need sunshine. So my physical results were a wake-up call for me that I really was working too much, and not getting enough outdoor time. Since then, I’ve been intentional about trying to get outside – my wife and I like to hike, so we mixed hikes into our workouts every so often instead of working out inside at the gym. I still don’t have enough time to golf, but I have made an effort to get to the driving range a bit more often. Sometimes it’s as simple as a walk in the afternoon on the weekend when we would otherwise be watching TV (inside of course).

Since then, I’ve been able to lower the dosage of Vitamin D supplements. And I just feel more positive and relaxed, because fresh air just feels good. Hopefully you too can break away from your indoor office, indoor apartment, and indoor everything else for a few minutes more than you do now, and get some healthy Vitamin D in your system. Consider walking meetings…something I’ve barely scratched the surface of:



education, family, leadership, personal


Two weeks ago, my niece Elizabeth graduated from college. It was awesome to see someone who I have known my entire life grow from an infant to an amazing young woman. She’s always been a great kid, and we have many memories together, and this graduation I’m sure will be just another step in a meaningful life.

She went to school for six years at Springfield College, earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. I am impressed with the dedication it takes these days for students, including my niece, to achieve their objectives. At the graduation, I met many wonderful young men and women who give me confidence in our future.

The commencement speech was given by an alum of Springfield College, Greg Toczydlowski, an insurance executive with The Travelers. He gave a great talk with practical advice for the graduates. Like, “just breath.” I like graduation speeches with practical advice, like when Admiral MCraven told the University of Texas graduating class to make their bed every day.

“Just breath” is advice many of us give and take quite a bit, because it’s so helpful in so many situations. Greg gave the group a breathing exercise to use when calm is needed, one of the breathing techniques that replicates some of the benefits of meditation. It was an inhale for four counts and an exhale for eight counts. These types of exercises are one of the methods I spoke of to combat negative self-talk, and in general can just help you manage your stress levels in the myriad of things that happen in life to throw us off. Those that stay the calmest do the best, so I was glad Greg gave me this tool for my arsenal.

Speaking of calm, my niece has always been a “rock” and a solid presence, and I could see it in her interactions with her peers during the weekend. I am one of countless proud uncles (and aunts, and dads, and moms, etc.) this graduation season, and I hope we all take a minute to reflect on their accomplishments. And we should also all re-listen to some commencement speeches to pick up tips that can help us be even better role models for the next generation.

leadership, personal

Combatting negative self-talk

In my last posts, I wrote about the sources of negative self-talk and the impacts of negative self-talk. In this final post of the series, we will look at some strategies for combatting negative self-talk.

When it comes to addressing or managing negative self-talk, there are offensive moves and defensive moves. Shutting out negative self-talk, or ignoring it are defensive methods, and may work when negative self-talk is only present occasionally. The more negative self-talk you have, the more you need to go on the offensive, with tactics that help push aside the negative self-talk or replace it with positive self-talk.

On the defensive side, distractions are a great tool. You can look internally or externally. For example, meditation and breathing exercises are used for many purposes like relaxation and focus and recharging; but they can also be used to turn your attention away from negative self-talk.

External distractions could include going to the movies and losing yourself in the story, even a binge-watched TV series, anything where the story takes over your inner workings of the brain. I actually love to simply sit quietly and listen to music or read a book. It can depend on your personality and patience level.

Your favorite hobbies should always be on your list of activities to initiate if you are sensing negative self-talk creep in; these hobbies will usually occupy your mind well, things like a game of tennis, or a session of knitting, anything to focus the mind on something other than your negative self-talk.

Other people can be an amazing distraction from negative self-talk; of course, only if they are the right people, especially friends who can provide some positive affirmations during your time together. But even just being around others can provide a distraction, like going to a sports bar to watch your favorite team play.

As we move towards more aggressive and dynamic means of combatting negative self-talk, we arrive at the act of replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk. As I’ve written about, I use daily affirmations to help focus me on actions, thoughts, behaviors that will help me in my life. Daily affirmations for me are a form of positive self-talk to combat my own negative self-talk. As I have built the daily affirmations into a routine, the habit has grown stronger, and I am more aware of my negative self-talk and quicker to “jump in” when it starts and fight back by reciting my affirmation (don’t worry, I use my inside voice so I don’t freak out anyone around me).

If you want to see examples of my affirmations, you can check them out on twitter (@realrickarpin) or on There are plenty of others who use similar tactics, and a host of articles and posts on the power of positive thinking and positive self-talk that you can find online.

Just being self-aware about the talk going on inside your head can make a big difference. Take time to pay attention to your self-talk and see if you can find the source of any negativity, and develop appropriate strategies to minimize the impact of negative self-talk. I believe this work will help you be a better person, spouse, friend, parent and leader.

leadership, personal

The impact of negative self-talk – Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about the impacts of negative self-talk on your personal life. In this post, I will cover the impacts negative self-talk can have on your professional life.

I promise this will be the last “depressing” post in this series on negative self-talk, in the final post of the series I will demonstrate ways to overcome negative self-talk and that will cheer us all up!

I have found a few key impacts of negative self-talk in the professional world:

We become defensive. If you have internalized phrases like, “I’m no good at this” or “I will never make my boss happy,” then feedback is going to be tough to hear. You might be able to muddle through it from peers or mentors, but hearing it from a more direct source like your boss or the people that work directly for you will be tough. You will usually shut down pretty quickly, and replace the actual words you are hearing with some sort of Peanuts professor voice. Your internal talk will take over and fill in the rest of the sentences.

The ironic thing is positive feedback also becomes tougher to accept. Our confidence is low, so we might do the old, “No, really it’s nothing, I could have done better, it was really Sally and Jim that did all the work” instead of saying proudly, “Thank you!”

The next impact is that we may become protective, of ourselves and our jobs. We want to ensure we “look good” which causes many bad decisions. Sometimes it stops us from making decisions altogether and we hope the status quo just keeps working, when in reality the world of business changes so fast that we are setting ourselves, our teams and our companies up for failure. We may miss good opportunities that require calculated risks. IN extreme cases, it can cause folks to do bad things like hiding mistakes, or deferring problems, hoping no one will notice. None of these are productive, but they can satisfy our internal talk in that moment.

Similar to the personal impacts, relationships can be harmed. For example, you might “hear” tone in emails that isn’t there, start losing the presumption of good intent, and shut down when dealing with the other party. You may be physically separate from your team in a remote situation, and not be willing to interact with them since you have been filling in the blanks for them while separate – your internal voice may say things like, “they screwed up that report on purpose to make me look bad.”

As a leader, internalizing things is part of our job. We often have to act as a buffer between our management and our teams. We have to show up calm and collected even when things aren’t so good. This is easier of you manage negative self-talk well. You can be prepared and make sure the right balance is struck between transparency and protecting the team. But with negative self-talk swirling uncontrolled, a couple of things can happen; you might miss the balance and worry your team needlessly by over-exposing, or you might not prepare them for bad news by portraying the scenario as too rosy. The worse outcome is a blow-up; i Internalizing stress can lead to “eruptions” of that stress, in many forms (anger, frustration, pettiness, over-emotional displays, etc.).

I think you can see that as a leader, managing negative self-talk is even more important.

Well that was two decently long posts, illustrating that there are certainly many problems and detrimental impacts arising from negative self-talk in your personal and professional lives. But not all is lost, as there are ways to manage negative self-talk. As I mentioned at the start, in the next post I will empower you to beat negative self-talk, with tools and techniques to help you win this fight!


Sharing our leadership struggles and successes

I like to say leadership is a team sport. Too often, we treat leadership like we treat many things we deem a “personal” item – we hide our struggles and our successes. It falls in the category of relationships, and hang-ups like addictions, or bad habits. We think it is solely on us to “win the battle” and become a better person, or friend, or spouse, or leader.

But that isn’t the right approach, because many of these things we think are our own struggles to fight are actually much better off being tackled as a group. Think of addiction/recovery programs, which are often done in groups and the members of the group leverage the support system in countless ways during the never-ending process.

Leadership is like this. Either 1) we assume everyone around us is a great leader and we can’t show “weakness” by admitting to them that we are having problems; or 2) we assume when we are doing well that it’s expected and everyone else is already doing it, so no need to share. But the truth is, we would be much better off being more transparent with each other and creating our own support system for leadership growth.

Recently, my company held an event where several leaders (including me) gave short “Ted-talk” style presentations, sharing some of our own leadership and personal struggles and successes. While the audience was internal employees, our social team shared key messages broadly. And the feedback was tremendous. I know it’s trite, but the old “if we help one person…” cliché certainly is sometimes appropriate and this was one of those cases. Because the stories were all personal, and different, they were bound to resonate with someone in an audience of 500 and a larger social presence. And they resonated with many someones.

And we can do this more! We don’t need to assemble groups of 500 to share leadership ideas, challenges, and brainstorm solutions. Start talking with your peers, your team, your boss. Don’t worry about where the conversation goes. Be a support system for someone around you, and you’ll be amazed at the results, everyone will benefit when we make leadership a team sport.