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A Checkup From the Neckup

Summary: 50 minutes a month to keep the brain tuned?

Her reasoning was intriguing. She took her car in for a tune-up from time to time, and had an accountant make sure her business's books were in order. She applied the logic of being proactive to avoid problems to her emotional health as well. The monthly 50 minute sessions weren't to fix a problem; they were tune-up sessions where the shrink was an advocatus diaboli, asking the hard questions and questioning assumptions to keep her on-track in life.

Unfortunately I lost touch with her, though heard she later married. Does she still keep those sessions? Many of us rely on our spouse to fill that role, though I can see some value in using an independent third party.

In the 80s I started a tools business with $400 in the bank. We expanded quickly, which meant cash was always in short supply. Sometimes really short supply. If you've ever had employees, you know that cash is the very grease of business; with money in the bank you have options. Sans bucks nothing works. Previously I had worked for a business which was woefully underfunded. Bob, the president, went through heroics to keep the doors open. The company went public; one auditor told me "I have seen every trick this company has pulled before. But never all by one outfit." Bob tells of how for 69 weeks in a row there wasn't enough money the day before payday to make payroll for his 100 or so employees, but something always happened to make the checks good the day they were disbursed.

To say he was a creative financier would be a woeful understatement.

When things in my tool business would get tough I'd call on Bob. With no notice he'd generously give me a couple of hours to talk out the problems and explore solutions. I have no formal training in finance or business, but got a degree in those subjects from the University of Bob. At 82 he's still a font of wisdom and a good friend, but, sadly, that generation is failing.

Eventually I hired an advisor, a hugely-successful and highly-recommended person who provided business advice. Paul would come by once a month for a couple of hours and answer questions. Far more importantly, he'd question me. "How could you justify these assumptions?" "You told me you'd do X, Y and Z last month - why didn't you?" "Why didn't you meet your projections for the quarter?"

At times this was really painful.

When there were problems Paul was a cornucopia of ideas. Some were daft. But enough were worthwhile that his check was one I was happy to sign each month. His seminal philosophy was that in business you must make money and have fun. Either alone is inadequate. A couple of decades later I still subscribe to that idea, and I still employ Paul. Even though The Ganssle Group is just a ridiculous two person company, having an outside advisor who questions my thinking is incredibly worthwhile. Sometimes we'll go for a year or more without getting any bits of brilliance from him. Last month he had an idea that dazzled and justified many months of fees.

Another friend also employs him, and we joke that over the decades we've earned an MBA from the U of Paul.

My wife is an artist with a thought process orthogonal to the engineering mindset. But she keeps me on track. When I develop an "obvious" solution to an issue with, say, one of the kids, she's quick to show me that, well, there may be relationship or emotional issues that I hadn't considered.

Then there's Scott, whom I've known since the 1950s, literally since we were toddlers. He's the best embedded guy I know, and a heck of a friend. We brainstorm a lot, about electronics, sailing, and pretty much everything else. You know what a true friend is? During a very low point in life he called one day and said "let's go to London for the weekend." We did, had a ton of fun, and that helped pull me out of my funk.

He was here last week and we spent an hour scheming ways to get a huge tree off my barn. A dozen whacky ideas morphed into a single plan which worked perfectly.

No one is smart enough to have the answer to all problems. We need others to expand our solution space. And we need someone outside of our own skull to hold us accountable, whether that's to business or personal goals and beliefs. I'm still a little unsure about my lady friend's monthly shrink visits, but see the logic.

How about you? Do you have a mentor or advisor for work or life issues? Who has been influential in your career?

Published July 22, 2014