When we don’t question things because things are going right, that’s when we miss micro-issues. In this episode, you’ll witness how the WHY of Make Sense works. Dr. Gary Sanchez welcomes Len Herstein, the CEO and President of Lead ManageCamp Inc. Len displays his uncanny ability to make sense of data and use that to solve problems. When COVID hit, he immediately pivoted from live events to virtual events. How did he make such a successful move? By gathering feedback to create a great learning experience. Len continued to bring his WHY as he went on to work for other companies. Learn how he makes sense and solves problems throughout his journey. Tune in!
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The WHY Of Make Sense: Cracking Data And Solving Problems With Len Herstein
In this episode, we’re going to be talking about the why of making sense, to make sense of the complex and challenging. If this is your why then you are driven to solve problems and resolve challenging or complex situations. You have an uncanny ability to take in lots of data and information. You tend to observe situations and circumstances around you and then sort through them quickly to create solutions that are sensible and easy to implement. Often you are viewed as an expert because of your ability to find solutions quickly.
You also have a gift for articulating solutions and summarizing them clearly in understandable language. You believe that many people are stuck and that if they could make sense out of their situation, they could develop simple solutions and move forward. In essence, you help people get unstuck and move forward.
I’ve got a great guest for you. His name is Len Herstein. He has years of experience in business and brand marketing. Prior to founding his marketing and events company, ManageCamp Inc., Len innovated, managed, and grew brands for major consumer packaged good marketers, including Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Nabisco, and others. Since 2015, Len has served as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado.
Len, welcome to the show.
Thank you. It’s great to be here, Gary. Thanks for having me.
This is going to be fun. It’s a very interesting background and what you’re doing right now. Take us through your history a little bit. Take us back to where did you grow up? Where did you go to high school? What were you like in high school? How did you progress to where you are now?
We’re going way back. I grew up in the Westernmost part of Long Island, New York. My family is from Brooklyn. A bunch of people moved from Brooklyn out to this area where I went to high school in Valley Stream. What was I like in high school? I wish I could say I was like the coolest kid, but I don’t think I was. I straddled this weird line because I was an athlete. I played soccer, baseball, basketball, and stuff, but I was also a student in the AP classes and stuff like that.
I walk this fine line between athlete and academic. I learned how to get along with a lot of different people and play a lot of different roles in friendships and stuff. That’s where I came. I went to college at Cornell University in New York and studied Marketing. I came out of there and went to work in consulting. I was one of those guys who didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I consulted. That helped me figure it out.
I worked for Anderson Consulting, which is now called Accenture. Basically, in the first year or two, I figured out what I got hired for was computer programming. They take you out of college at that point and send you to this university that they built for themselves in St. Charles, Illinois. They taught us how to program in COBOL II, which is an old mythic language. It didn’t take me long to figure out that was not what I wanted to do. I was not good at it. I did not enjoy it.
I made the switch over to what was called Change Management. I worked on the teams that helped organizations go through the changes that these new systems that we were building made for them. I did that for a couple of years and went back, got my MBA back at Cornell in Marketing, and made that switch over to consumer-packaged goods marketing.
I went to work for Nabisco, Coca-Cola, and Campbell Soup before I realized that I was going to a lot of conferences. I found myself coming home early from a lot of them back in the days when we had travel agents that we would call and stuff. I decided to put together the conference that I would want to do. I was having a hard time finding it. That’s what my conference was called brand managed camp became. We did our 19th Annual back in May 2021. This one was virtual, so we did that. Several years ago, I became a volunteer police officer basically. I’m the Sheriff’s Deputy here in Douglas County, Colorado, which was a whole new path for me.Drive your business forward towards a more profitable, more innovative, and more successful future. Click To Tweet
I’m sure we’ll talk about that. I was looking for a way to give back and do something different, and this came up. I went through a whole academy, a long field training process, and became a deputy. I was learning some things that were surprising to me and I could bring them back to my business and personal life. That’s where this concept of complacency is. I learned about how complacency kills. We fight it with vigilance and law enforcement.
I saw a lot of synergies back to business in terms of complacency kills brands, businesses, organizations, and personal relationships. My book that came out is called Be Vigilant!: Strategies to Stop Complacency, Improve Performance, and Safeguard Success. It’s all about specific strategies you can use right away to fight complacency in your own life, whether it be work or home, with vigilance. That’s my life.
Let’s dive into that a little bit. When you were in high school, you were the athlete and the student. Were you the guy that people would go to if they had problems or issues and say, “Len, can you help me? I got something going on. Can I tell you what’s going on?” Were you the guy that would help them?
I’d like to say I was, but I think the honest truth would be no. I don’t think that happened back then. I don’t think I have gotten into that role yet. We were more about, “Where can we find some beers and get down to the boardwalk?” It was a simpler life back then, Gary. They didn’t seem like there were many problems to solve.
Everything was easy to figure out, but getting into programming was not the direction you thought you were going to go. Were you forced in that direction?
I wouldn’t say I was forced in that direction, but we’re talking 1991 at this point. At that time, those gigs out of college were pretty high, relatively paying. I think the number was $33,000. It was the starting salary. That was huge, enormous. It was one of those things where I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. I figured I probably wanted to go back to grad school at some point, but I needed some years to figure out what that was going to be about.
I took that job, and that initial thing in terms of programming turned out not my thing. It was good because it helped me figure that out. I went down this path of change management, which is helping people solve problems brought on by change. During those jobs, I ended up doing some consulting work. Some of our clients were marketing companies per se like Pepsi and AT&T. That’s when I started getting excited about marketing. That then gave me the confidence that I knew what I wanted to do. That’s when I went back for my MBA.
As a change management agent, what did you do? What was that?
A lot of the time I spent working in the government sector. We were coming into the state tax department, state DMV, stuff like that, mostly tax stuff. Putting together new computer systems for them to help them manage the flow of information and data they have basically do the things they had to do. When those new systems would come in, there would be enormous changes to workflows, jobs, and what was required of people.
The change management job was about mapping out where are we now? Where are we going to be in the future? How do we get people between there with the least amount of pain? It was a lot of reorganization, re-engineering of jobs and processes, and training to help people get the skills and the knowledge they needed to move forward.
That sounds like it fits you pretty well.
It did. That was right up my alley. Now that you told me I’m a make sense guy, it makes all sense to me.
It’d be interesting when you go back to one of your high school reunions to find out if your classmates felt that way about you, like, “Len was somebody that I could talk to. Len was somebody that if I had a problem, that’s where I would go because he’d helped me figure it out.” It’d be interesting to ask your classmates that question. I bet you. They’re going to tell you, “Yeah, you were that guy. You were partying, an athlete, and all that, but if I had someone I needed to talk to, I was going to talk to you.”
Based on your why, I would bet that’s the way it is. You were in change management, and then you decided to go to Cornell. Why did you switch from change management to marketing? Why did you feel you needed an MBA?
I started doing some work within companies that I would consider marketing-driven companies. It’s a certain type of marketing. Everybody has a different definition of marketing. I talk more about brand management. To me, brand management is running many businesses. When you would run a brand for Campbell Soup or Coca-Cola, or something like that, you would touch everything, P&L, sales, manufacturing, research and development, advertising, which would be the traditional way people would think about marketing.
There are all these other elements that go into what I would consider marketing or brand management. That started to excite me, being at the hub of this wheel, influencing everything, and driving this business forward towards a more profitable, innovative, and successful future. Once I saw that I started thinking about how do I get there? I started processing the information and said, “Here’s where I want to be. What’s the way to get there?”
It became fairly evident to me that if I was going to do that type of job at the type of company that I wanted to do, which was like a Coca-Cola, those types of things, I did need to go back to school. I did need to get my MBA. It was going to get hard. If I wanted to come in through, like maybe a sales role or something, and then work my way over into marketing, I could have certainly done that, I’m sure. The quickest way for me to get to where I wanted to be was to use that advanced degree as my pivot point and move into a new area.
You did that and through that, you learn that the type of education you’re going to get at these events didn’t make sense. You’re bored to death and wanted to leave, so you created your own.
As a brand marketer, I’d go to a lot of conferences. When I was at Campbell Soup and working on suits that we were marketing to kids, I would go to kid’s marketing conferences. They’re all very niche and specific. They would look great on paper, and I would get there. They would serve me a cold bagel for breakfast. You’d show up and be sitting there. Maybe a bunch of people trying to sell me things as opposed to telling me anything useful. This was back in the days where if someone showed up with a Mac and nobody had a dangle, and everything broke down.
The execution wasn’t great. The content wasn’t great. I wasn’t getting anything actionable. I was walking away with. In general, I felt like they were a big waste of time. Literally, it’s a cliche, but it’s 100% true. This will date me and tell you how old it is. I was on a US Air flight from New Orleans back to Philly and started writing down on a cocktail napkin what the next conference I was going to go to had to offer me. I couldn’t find anything that matched those requirements. My wife got tired of hearing me talk about it until they did something about it. I generally do what she tells me. That’s how we made it this long.
What is it you want at a conference? What did you write down?People have different attention spans and do things differently. Click To Tweet
I wanted something that was going to deliver actionable insights that I could use. I wanted something that was going to be a broad look at brand management. It wasn’t going to be so narrow that every topic overlapped and was repetitive with each other. It had to have speakers who needed to be keynote quality. I didn’t want one great speaker and then a bunch of people from the industry who look good on paper.
The thing I started to see at least in the conferences I was going to. This is not a broad thing. In the conferences that I was going to, there was this move towards multi-track events. There’s a lot of panel discussions. A lot of it was built around getting a lot of speakers in there, who had big titles and big companies, that they can then use to pad their attendance list with like, “Look at all these great companies that are going to be here,” and then they could sell sponsorships.
It was all about the sponsorship money, the sponsorships. What I was looking to do is I was looking to create a conference that was simpler and easier to go to that delivered actionable insights, a single-track conference where there were no choices to make. It wasn’t super complicated to figure out what I was going to go to. I wanted it to be attendee-focused, not sponsor-focused. I wanted to be focused on delivering actionable insights that people could use right away, along with a broad range of topics. It had to have great food and be executed flawlessly. Other than that, it was pretty simple things.
It’s hard to find one like that even now. It sounds like you created that. Is that what your events are like now?
That’s exactly what it is. We focus heavily on execution and making sure everything runs smoothly. We value the fact that people are taking money and, more importantly, time away from their families and offices and stuff like that to come to spend it with us. We value that a lot. We want to make sure that not only do they get a great learning experience, but that seating is comfortable. Everybody can hear everything. When they break for lunch, there’s hot food, great choices, and healthy food available.
A lot of people, especially in marketing, talk about the experience. We have a lot of great speakers who have spoken about customer experience and things of that sort. What I found was the conferences weren’t living that. They would bring in speakers to talk about it, but they weren’t living it themselves. They weren’t creating a great experience. That’s what we set out to do.
Tell us about the first conference you threw.
The first one we threw was in Philly in 2003. We’re in this post 9/11 timeframe where the travel industry had been decimated. Hotels and everything was hurting. We were able to come in and get this sweetheart deal on a contract with a hotel, which was a big deal. In the conference industry, you have to put a lot of money upfront. You’ve got to guarantee a lot of things in order to get space and hope people come. We were able to get this great deal so that our risk was low.
I was still working for Campbell Soup at that time. For the first four years of starting my business, I still worked full-time for Campbell Soup. I was trying to build the proof of concept here. It was in Philly. I think 90 people showed up is what happened. It was in this small ballroom. We had great food, sushi, and all these things. We thought we had a great experience. Several years ago, we looked back at how different it was in terms of what the AV capabilities are now and the things we can do with the stage, the slides, and everything going on. It was pretty interesting.
We were able to succeed early as we were able to get speakers at our event that were well beyond our budget. Somehow, I was able to negotiate it. We have Seth Godin, who’s written a ton of marketing books and a huge deal. We had a guy named Malcolm Gladwell, who probably doesn’t speak for less than $75,000 to $100,000 now. We got him for next to nothing back. Those types of things upfront help us get started down this path. There’s a lot of things lined up for us that went in our favor back in those early years. It helped us learn quickly and cheaply.
What was the title and topic of your first event?
As we moved on, we stopped having topics. The first event was marketing in turbulent times. It was something about marketing in turbulent times. I started to realize what happened because the first 2 or 3 years, we changed our theme every year. It was always a marketing conference, but we call it marketing in turbulent times or something else. Because of that, we have to rebrand every year. We have to convince people that this is the topic they need to hear more about. The more you focus on a specific topic, the more you have that problem, where you have overlapping things and people talking about the same things and maybe contradicting each other and all this.
After a few years, we moved away from coming up with a new topic every year. The tagline for the event has been and still is fresh thinking starts here. For brand marketers looking for fresh thinking for their brands and organizations, this is the destination each year. It made it a lot easier for us. We didn’t have to brainstorm a whole new thing, like, “What would it be in 2021?” It would be like “Marketing in turbulent times.” Every year is marketing in turbulent times. It’s never not turbulent. Nobody ever wakes on me, like, “Marketing is easy in 2021. It’s easier.” They’re giving us more money to do less. It’s fantastic.
You got out of working with Campbell Soup, and the event was your business or was there a different business besides the event?
We also did consulting work, but the event was the main part.
We move forward to COVID and no events.
Things got shut down pretty quick there. The end of 2019 is when this all started coming. We’re like, “This is no big deal. This is a China thing. This is not a US thing.” It was back when people were thinking back then. It came in, and we had our 2020 event planned for September. We would generally start promoting that in January. We did and started promoting it. January and February 2020, we’re promoting it, and things are starting to get a little bit dicey, and some people are signing up, but we can see that things are slowing down.
March 2020 hit and everything shut down. We’re like, “I don’t think we can do a lot of events.” It was back before that realization had settled in. Quickly we realized, “We’ve got to pivot to something different. This is going to move to virtual somehow.” We don’t know how to do virtual because we’ve been complacent. Several years of doing it live, it was always going to be that way. We never built our virtual capabilities. We had to do that real quick, pivot around, and create our first-ever virtual conference.
From 90 people in 2003, how did it grow? What was it like before the pandemic? What is it like now?
It was always, what I would consider, an intimate conference because we’re not focused on sponsorship. We’re focused on attendees. We didn’t have hundreds of sponsors and speakers. We would only have 12 or 13 speakers. We’d have maybe two sponsors, and then everybody else was attendees. We were in the 400s. We’re able to deliver a good experience to everybody that way. It was fine for us. When COVID hits, all that’s out the window. Now we’re in this whole brand-new world of virtual, and everybody is giving it away for free, and nobody wants to pay for the virtual stuff anymore.
The whole value proposition has changed. You can’t even compare it. It’s like apples to oranges. Our goal in this virtual timeframe is to continue our relationships with people and stay out there with content. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the book. We did our 2021 Brand Manage Camp back in May. Generally, we do one a year. We’re sitting back on that side and waiting to see what happens. We’ve learned that we can’t predict what’s going on. We have these ebbs and flows in terms of events. Quite honestly, my event and our event are probably among the last types of events to come back.
There are trade shows, industry, and association events. Those things where people need to get out and sell to each other are different than my event, which is a learning event. It was probably going to be among the last ones to come back to the live forum. Because so much goes into planning a live event and financial commitment, we’re waiting to see how these next few months play out before planning our next one. I took that opportunity throughout that time to write my book. I’ve been spending a lot of time doing the law enforcement stuff as well. That’s been keeping me busy.There's no benefit to being treated differently. Click To Tweet
There are going to be people reading this that have their events and have been doing them like you have and had to switch to virtual. What was it like for you to go from live to virtual? How do you think the effectiveness is virtual versus live?
There are pros and cons. I think in terms of the convenience of it, the cost of it to the end-user, and the ability to have stuff on demand and see it on your own timeframe, there’s a lot of positives there. The inability to get together in person, I think a lot is lost there. The inability to carve out your time when you’re in a live event, you put your phone on mute and out of office email answer. You sit there, listen and learn. When you’re sitting in your home or office, and you’re watching a virtual thing, there are a million other things competing for your time and attention.
It’s by nature. It’s not anybody’s fault. It’s nearly impossible to put the same amount of attention into one of those things as you do in live events. I’m still a big believer in live events. I think they’ll be back, but the way we approached it makes sense within this make sense thing. We took a step back and said, “We’re going to approach our pivot into virtual the same way we did when we first started our live conference. It was to take a look at things and figure out what’s missing. What are people getting wrong?” We sat back for a little bit and saw that a lot of people were trying to take their live events and turn them into virtual as if there was no difference other than the delivery mechanism.
The reality is that’s not true. People learn differently. People have different attention spans and do things differently. The other thing is that people were diving into this virtual world, and they did not understand the tools they were using and the best way to use them. The way that manifested itself for us is that we looked at it, and I said, “We’re going to do this virtual and have all these speakers.” We don’t typically do Q&A in the middle of a speaker session. Our speakers get up and speak for, in a live event, 50 minutes.
The first thing we said is 50 minutes is way too long. We can’t do that in a virtual world. We’re looking at 20 to 30 minutes. What I saw was that there were a lot of these people calling things in conferences that ended up looking a lot like webinars. Someone with a talking head in the corner and the whole screen was a slide, and you’re looking at the slides the whole time. We hire our speakers because they’re engaging, entertaining, and energetic. We don’t hire them for their slides. We hire them for them.
If I were doing a live event, I would never have them sit off in a corner somewhere and have everybody stare at the screen. What we did is we spent a lot of time and energy working with every one of our speakers. We prerecorded all of the sessions, but we did it with professional production. Slides coming in and out, only being shown when they needed to be shown. Having our speakers stand up, move around, be active, and do all these things that are not someone sitting in front of a webcam.
What we did is our conference platform allowed us to then have our speakers attend while we were airing their session. They could interact with attendees in the chat room and answer questions in real-time. We would bring them in on a live stream as soon as their session ended to do a live-action Q&A. This hybrid of why not prerecord so that we could guarantee the quality, everybody could hear, didn’t crap out because their internet went or something like that.
We had that guaranteed quality of the session. You have this other thing that we’ve never been able to have before live, which is a live Q&A with the speaker as the session is happening. They could clarify, expand on stories, and hear from the audience. We would carry that over, basically what you and I are doing now, into a live conversation and an interview afterward. That was pretty cool. We took this and said, “We’re going to take a look at all the information, come up with our best solution, not take what we did before and do it virtually.”
It’s a great way you did that. We had to do our annual event 2021 as well and I learned a whole lot along the way. Obviously, I saw some things that we could do better. That being one of them, that was great to hear. How did you prerecord the sessions? Did you have him show up and do it live on a stage with no audience, or was it a Zoom thing that was recorded? How did you do that?
It depended on the speaker because we only had twelve speakers or whatever speakers we had. Part of our brand is I formed my personal relationship with every one of our speakers. We don’t hire 100 speakers, and I don’t know who they are, and they do their own thing. We were able to work individually with each speaker. A couple of speakers were here in Colorado, so they were able to come over to our offices and we shot it in our studio.
Most of our speakers are all professionals, so they have their own studios and stuff. Some were able to produce themselves. We had a couple that needed a little bit more help that was more remote. We set them up with equipment. We walk them through it. We gave them all sorts of tutorials and instructions, and some of them, we had to do a couple of times to get it right. It was a mix depending on their experience level, comfort, capabilities were in terms of lighting, sound, video, and all that stuff.
I can see how you helped them make sense of this different way to do it and created an experience that was better than expected. I’m sure you’ve allowed them beyond what they thought they were going to get in a virtual seminar or workshop.
That’s the feedback we got from folks, which was like, “This is the best virtual event we’ve been to so far.” We got a lot of that. It’s interesting because at the beginning, my immediate thought, as we were thinking this through, was, “How do we prerecord this without letting people know it’s been prerecorded?” We were going to have the speakers wear the same things when they recorded, as they did on the day they came. It took me two minutes to then figure out, “That is so disingenuine.” It’s basically a lie. I don’t want to ever lie to my customers. That was a terrible idea.
We very quickly said, “No, we’re going to be totally upfront about this, be honest, and let people know.” There were some people afterward who were like, “I was like very skeptical of this prerecorded thing. I wasn’t going to get value from it, or I should watch it later or whatever.” The way that happened, where I was able to have a conversation with the speaker and the live Q&A afterward was so much more valuable than they expected.
Tell us about your book, Be Vigilant! How did that come about? What is it? What prompted you to write it?
I’ve been working with the bestselling author for several years. I always thought I would write a book at some point, but I never had an idea that I felt was good enough or book-worthy. I didn’t want it to be a me-too book. I never did it. When I had this opportunity to become a Reserve Sheriff’s Deputy, which basically means that I’m a full-fledged police officer, I do it for free and go out on patrol. It sounds crazy.
I’m not going to let you get off the hook with this one. Why did you do that? Were you drunk one night and said, “I think I’m going to be a cop for free?”
I was trying to keep up with my wife, who’s been heavily involved in Girl Scouts. We have two daughters. For several years, she has been heavily involved in Girl Scouts beyond being a troop leader for both of my daughters and all sorts of volunteer stuff. I never had this volunteerism going on in my life. I felt like it was something that I wanted to add. I was looking for something to do. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a cop or thinking that I wanted to do that or anything like that. Honestly, it was around December of 2014 Facebook post.
We’ve got a big county. The sheriff’s office runs most of the law enforcement within this county. They put out a Facebook ad saying, “We’re looking for people to go through the Reserve Academy to become reserve sheriff’s deputies.” I was like, “That looks pretty interesting and sounds cool.” We have a unique department. This is not paraded duty or something like that. You go out and work. You do everything that a full-timer does. You do it for free. I was like, “That sounds cool.” I asked my wife, and she didn’t understand it, so she said, “Yes.”
She didn’t know what she was getting herself into at the time. I went off to this informational meeting. There were 120 people in the room. There were ex-military, ex-cops, and all these people, and most of them younger than me. I remember walking away from that and being like, “They’re never going to pick me. Why would they pick me?” I filled out the application and I got chosen, which was crazy. I had to go through all this stuff. I had to go through the same psych evaluation, physical testing, and all that stuff.
I got accepted and had to go through an academy that ran from May to November. After that, I had to do 440 hours of field training out on the road with a field training officer before I got certified to do patrol. That’s why I wanted to do it. Honestly, the other piece of this is that everybody is aware of the difficulties we’ve been having in terms of the relationship between community and law enforcement in the last couple of years. This is not new.
Back then, it was like Ferguson. That was going on. I got tired of seeing friends and acquaintances argue and complain on Facebook or whatever social media they’re on. I wanted to be part of the solution. The best way that I could see to be part of creating a great relationship between the community and law enforcement was to get involved and to do it. That’s my purpose. It’s to protect, serve and help people be safer, but also help strengthen our relationship in my little piece of the world that I can do it.When we don't question things because things are going right, that's when we miss micro-issues. Click To Tweet
Two obvious questions that the readers are thinking about right now, and the first one being, what did your partner think when they first met you and thought you did what? You’re doing this for how much? Why the heck are you doing this? The second question is, what’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you out there so far?
When you say partner, do you mean one of the other cops?
You get into a car or whatever with your partner for the day or one that you’re doing all your hours with. They are talking to you, and they’re like, “You’re a marketer. It makes a lot of sense that you’d be in here with me. How much are they paying you for this? You’re doing it for free.”
The interesting thing is for the first six years of this, and I patrolled solo. I didn’t have a partner. I would go out and do it by myself. I would work in a district. We have eleven districts in our county. I would fill in for people who were going on vacation or short staff. We’ve started going to two-man cars for that. Before that, it was all solo stuff, but I get your question. We’re in briefing or whatever. The great thing is I spent so many hours doing it. I would spend most of my hours working on a specific team called the Swings B Team. It’s a swing shift and on the B side of the week.
In fact, the publishing company that I created for the book is Swings B Publishing because that’s my team. I got very close with those people. They consider me part of the team, but I get all the time, like, “Why are you doing this for free?” I barely want to do this for money. People get it, but they don’t get it. There’s a lot of respect. They appreciate the help are always short-staffed. They appreciate the fact that I’m there. I think they’re coming in assumption before they met me in the way that a lot of people look at it, “Here’s a guy who wants to run around with a badge, a gun and have some power,” and stuff like that.
Like anything in life, the only way to prove people wrong is to prove people wrong on it, do the job and do it as good as anybody else does it. That was always my goal. My goal was always not to be treated differently because I’m doing it for free. If I mess up, I want you to come down on me the same way you would come down on someone who’s getting paid.
At the end of the day, we’re talking about life and death on a lot of these things. There’s no benefit to being treated differently. I think that earns a lot of respect. People look at me as a regular deputy. They don’t look at me any different, but every now and then, I still get, especially on a rough day, like, “Why are you here? What are you doing? Why are you doing this?”
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened so far?
There’s been so much bad and good. Everybody has a different definition of crazy. I think the funniest thing was when I was in-field training. We got a call about a chicken crossing the road. I thought it was a joke. While part of our county is rural, the part that I work in is not rural. It’s a typical suburb. You don’t have chickens running around. We got this call about a chicken crossing the road. We were like, “This is not happening. Somebody is playing with us obviously,” but we still got to go check it out and whatever.
I get there, and lo and behold, and there’s that chicken. We were looking around for a little while, and I had to call out on the radio, “If you’re unable to locate, you’d call out UTL.” My computer started to lighten up with all the chat messages that everybody was laughing and stuff. Literally, ten seconds later, this chicken saunters across the road in front of my car. I caught that chicken and returned it to his owner. It’s not easy to catch a chicken. They’re ornery.
Hopefully, nobody had a video going while you were out there chasing a chicken.
My field training officer got a good picture of it. I didn’t take any video, but I got a good picture and some good ribbon. It was fun.
Tell us about your book.
Basically, I started this thing thinking it was going to be completely different than anything I’d done before, which it was because I was coming in with this lens, that’s different. I’m not a 21-year-old whose this is their first work experience or something like that. I’m a 45-year-old at that point in time who’s had 25 plus years of work experience. I can’t leave that at home. I’m definitely coming with that point of view. We started learning from the very first day how complacency kills. This is something we talk a lot about in law enforcement because 95% to 98% of our day is pretty standard and uneventful, and then things can go wrong quickly.
If you allow yourself to become comfortable, you can be in some pretty big trouble. We talk about it complacently and what it is, and how to combat it. I started thinking about how there were things that we were doing every day that we didn’t talk about in those words. There are things that we’re doing in law enforcement, too. I started making that connection. We’re doing this to keep us present and from getting complacent.
I started paying attention to the fact that complacency as a word is used a lot in culture, but it’s a throwaway word. People use it thinking that, “Let’s not get complacent out there,” or like, “They’re getting complacent to see headlines during COVID.” Nobody ever talks about what it is like, “What is it? How do you fight it?” As opposed to saying, “I’m not going to be complacent,” as if it’s that easy, but it’s not that easy.
That last piece of it, I started thinking, “Complacency in law enforcement kills businesses, brands, and personal relationships.” I saw an opportunity where I can write this book that brings some of these lessons learned and translate them into the personal and the business world to say, “What are some things that we can do every day to help us fight complacency?” The idea is that complacency is not laziness. Complacency is overconfidence, self-satisfaction, and smugness that makes us unaware of dangers and threats.
The opposite of complacency is not paranoia. A lot of people think that. I have to be looking over my shoulder all the time. No, because the opposite is not paranoia. It’s vigilance. The difference is that paranoia is based on fear, the fear of potential threats, and vigilance is based on their awareness. This book then is about how do we remain vigilant? What are specific strategies can we use to help us fight complacency every day in business and at home?
Give us an example of one.
There are ten different ones. Each one has a chapter in the book. One of the simplest ones is this idea of threat awareness, understanding where your threats could come from. One of the things that I talk about in the book is law enforcement or the military. If you’ve got anybody like that in your family or friends, we are notoriously difficult to go out to eat with because we are very specific about where we want to sit. We want to have our eyes on where the potential threats could be. Not because we’re paranoid, but because we want to be able to see what’s coming if we have to.
The parallel to that in business in life is how do you get a 360-degree view of your threats? How do you look beyond the overconfidence that you have in terms of what your threats are? A lot of times in business, someone was asking you who your competitors are, and you can rattle off 2 or 3 right away and what your strategies are against them. I would start to think maybe you’re a little bit complacent because you’re getting that tunnel vision. You’re focusing and becoming what I would call the roadrunner effect.
Wile E. Coyote becomes so focused on the Road Runner, but what gets Wile E. Coyote every time is never the Road Runner. It’s always something else. That can happen to us. We can become so focused on the competition as we’ve defined it that we miss the new competition. We miss different industries coming into our industry. The same thing can happen at home.The unfortunate reality is businesses only do debriefing things when things go wrong. Click To Tweet
We could become overconfident that we understand what’s happening in our life, that things blindside us. They feel like they blindsided us, but they haven’t. They’ve been coming for a long time. We didn’t have eyes on them. I have a whole chapter where I talk about threat awareness and how do you build that threat awareness. How do you do it not in a paranoid way, but in an awareness way?
I’ll give you one more. Another one that I talk a lot about is debriefing. We all know the brief and the debrief. We all do some level of the briefing, whether it be weekly meetings or one-on-ones, or whatever it is. If you talk to most people in business and you ask them, “Do you guys do debriefs now?” They might say yes, but the reality is they’re debriefing things when things go wrong, there’s blame to find, or some disasters happen. We got to figure out why.
What we do in law enforcement that doesn’t happen a lot in the business or personal life is we debrief big things, whether they were successful or a failure. At the end of a mission or something of importance, we’ll sit down and say, “What went right? What went wrong? What went right? What went right by accident, because our competition or whoever we’re against made a mistake and we benefited from it?” When we don’t question things because things are going right, that’s when we miss these little micro issues that are coming up.
That’s where we miss these things that we have the ability to fix early before they become something bigger. I talk a lot about the value of debriefing in terms of fighting complacency because the biggest thing that leads to vulnerability from complacency is a success, ironically. The more successful we are, the more complacent we become. We start believing the hype. We are successful because of everything that we’ve done. All of our actions have led to that.
When the reality is, that’s not always true. In Denver, I would tell people, “Be a Peyton Manning. He got the Ring of Fame in the Bronco Stadium,” or anywhere else in the rollout, I’ll tell you to be a Tom Brady. Neither one of those guys, at the end of a win, sit back and say, “We’re going to party until next week.” Every one of them immediately will start thinking about what could we have done differently? What could we have done better? What are some vulnerabilities that maybe our competition didn’t take advantage of because they didn’t see them, but the next time somebody will see them?
Debriefing is a great way. You can do it with your family too and at home. How many times do you only talk to your kids when things go wrong? They get a bad grade, stay out too late, get into an accident with the car. How many times do we sit down and say, “What went right? You got a B+ on a test. That’s awesome. How can we get it to an A? What can we emulate? What can we build on?” We don’t do enough of that. Talk about our successes and try and find learnings in them. That’s another way to fight complacency with vigilance.
The last question I always ask people is what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received or the best piece of advice you’ve ever given?
I’ll give you two pieces of advice. One of them is from a guy by the name of Bruce Turkel. He is a speaker I’ve worked with. He’s written a couple of different books and wrote a cool book that came out called Is That All There Is?, which is pretty awesome. The thing was from a previous book and it was this idea that it’s all about them. The concept that I think a lot of us mess up with both in life and business is making it about us when it should be about them, our customers, our constituents, our vendors, and our employees. When we’re marketing our products and services, are we telling people what we want them to hear? Are we telling them what they want to hear and what they need to hear?
It’s that nuance in terms of making sure you’re always thinking about things in terms of making it all about them and not all about me. It’s something I think has been great for me. I come back to it a lot. In terms of whenever I’m putting together materials for people to read, or writing my book, or whatever, how has this for them, as opposed to what I want people to hear? It’s the difference between doing a presentation at work filled with 100 slides of all the work you did because you need everybody to know all the work you did as opposed to the two slides of the conclusions because that’s what the people in the room need.
If they want to hear about all the work that he did, they can come to get that later. That, to me, is a great mantra for a lot of different things in life. The other one was when I was back working at Coca-Cola, there was a guy named Steven Boyd. He told me this thing, “One is a dot, two is a line, three is a trend.” It’s something I go back to a lot in terms of making sure I don’t read too much into one-off events, and when I’m making decisions is based on an actual pattern and not based on something that’s an anomaly or something like that. In life, especially in this world that we live in now, people are way too quick to react to things without understanding. Is it a dot, line, or trend?
I’m going to ask you, people who are reading this say, “I like Len. I like what he’s about. I totally agree with his book, and how do I get ahold of him? How can I work with him? How can I go to his event?” What’s the best way to connect with you?The biggest thing that leads to vulnerability from complacency is success. Click To Tweet
The best way is to go to my website, LenHerstein.com. It’s got everything about me and my book. If you’re interested in a conference, you can go to BrandManageCamp.com. That’s the conference. If you’re interested in the book and where you can buy it, you can get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, anywhere you buy books online. You can get it there, but if you want to learn more about me, what the book is about, and get some free swag, too, go over to LenHerstein.com.
Len, thank you so much for taking the time to be here. I enjoyed our conversation. Hopefully, I don’t see you in your sheriff’s gear anytime soon because I do go by you all the time.
I don’t work the highways a lot, so if you’re staying on a highway, you should be good. I appreciate you having me on. The other thing I forgot to mention is that I encourage anybody out there to reach out and connect with me on LinkedIn. I love connecting with people on LinkedIn. We can have one-on-one conversations there. Thanks for having me, Gary. This is awesome. Thanks for letting me go through the process of figuring out what my why is. I have a whole chapter in my book about why, purpose, and all this stuff. It’s such a great connection for me. This is a different use of it, but I love it. It’s spot on.
Thanks, Len. I appreciate you.
It’s time for our segment, Guess their WHY. Instead of using Walt Disney, I’m going to use his brother, Roy. If you know anything about Disneyland and Disney World and Disney, Walt was the visionary. He was the why guy, but if he didn’t have his brother, Roy, nothing would have gotten done. You have a guy with a lot of ideas but not the ability to implement them. He brought along with him his brother, Roy, who wasn’t an idea guy, but he was an implementer. He took all of the ideas, concepts, and thoughts that Walt came up with and made them happen, creating structure, processes, and systems around getting things done.
What would you guess, Roy Disney’s why is? Think about that for a minute. For me, I believe that Roy’s why was to do things the right way in order to get results. People with that why are structure, process, systems people. They take ideas and build a structure around them, making them happen predictably and consistently so that people have a predictable, consistent experience. That’s what’s so great about Disney World and Disneyland is you get a consistent, predictable experience every time you go there.
It’s done around vision and the thinking of Walt Disney but done in the way that Roy created so that people love the experience they have. That’s what I think. Let me know what you think. Thank you so much for reading. If you’ve not yet discovered your why, you can go to WHYInstitute.com, use the code PODCAST 50, and you can get it for half price. We do that to thank you for reading. If you love the show, please don’t forget to subscribe, leave us a review, and rating on whatever platform you’re using. Thank you so much. I will see you next episode. Have a great week.
- Be Vigilant!: Strategies to Stop Complacency, Improve Performance, and Safeguard Success
- Is That All There Is?
- Amazon – Be Vigilant!: Strategies to Stop Complacency, Improve Performance, and Safeguard Success
- Barnes & Noble – Be Vigilant!: Strategies to Stop Complacency, Improve Performance, and Safeguard Success
- LinkedIn – Len Herstein
About Len Herstein
Len Herstein has over 30 years of experience in business and brand marketing. Prior to founding his marketing and events company (ManageCamp Inc.), Len innovated, managed,and grew brands for major consumer packaged goods marketers, including Campbell SoupCompany, Coca-Cola, and Nabisco.Since 2015, Len has served as a reserve deputy sheriff with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado