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August 2019

ABOUT INNOVATION: Why Are Some Cover Bands So Good But Never Make It?

Sell the kids for food
Weather changes moods
Spring is here again
Reproductive glands

He's the one
Who like all our pretty songs
And he likes to sing along
And he likes to shoot his gun
But he don't know what it means
Don't know what it means
And I say yeah
--In Bloom, Nirvana

If there's one thing that's always amazed me, it's the number of artists that are absolutely ####ing awesome - but never make it in the marketplace.  

You know what I mean, right?  How many solo or group musicians have you heard and wondered why they are accountants during the day? How many sketch artists or painters have talent rivaling Nevermind
Warhol but have never been discovered - and are working an hourly job to make ends meet?

I was reminded of this a couple of years ago when Mrs. Capitalist joined me and some friends to go see the Atlanta-based Nirvana cover band named "Nevermind".

They were - absolutely great.  The lead singer has hair like Kurt Cobain and the Mr. Rodgers-style sweater.  But most importantly, they nailed the Nirvana sound.

WHY NOT THEM?  Why can't you stream their stuff on Spotify/Pandora?

I thought a lot about that in the days that followed.  Here's what I came up with.

Most of us don't have musical skill or artistic ability.  So we're shocked when we hear it/see it and find it to be unique.  But the real reason most artists don't make it has to do with originality/innovation.  

Originals get paid.  Innovators start new trends and cash in.  When you really stop to think about it, it's that way in corporate America as well.

The guy I saw that night sounds like Kurt Cobain.  But he and his band didn't create their own sound.  So the marketplace doesn't reward them.

Let's take someone from the business world.  There's a lot of people in American business that are as dynamic as Elon Musk - many are more dynamic.  They interview well, are great in meetings and damn, are they great presenters.  What's missing?

Elon Musk has big ideas and endless passion.  SpaceX.  Tesla. SolarCity. 

You're as good as Elon Musk on the powerpoint and in front of people.  But your ideas?  They're smaller.

Nevermind is to Nirvana as a smart executive is to Elon Musk.  One wore the sweater first.  The other followed.

It's the same thing in the business world.  You're amazed by the presentation skills of Frank in Marketing, but he hasn't broken through.

Turns out those public speaking skills are missing one important ingredient for the payoff - original ideas. 

I'm so happy because today
I've found my friends
They're in my head
I'm so ugly, but that's okay, 'cause so are you
We've broken our mirrors
Sunday morning is everyday for all I care
And I'm not scared
Light my candles in a daze
'Cause I've found god
Hey, hey, hey


BUILDING CULTURE THROUGH RECRUITING #3: Assessment Platforms in Selection...

Capitalist Note: This post is part of a series on Building/Reinforcing Company Culture Through Great Recruiting and Talent Acquisition Practices. 

Let's face it people, "company culture" is a loaded phrase. Some of it is real, some of it is aspirational, but one thing on my mind recently is that as we try to build the culture we want at our companies, we forget about the messages we send in our recruiting process.

So you're proud of your culture - cool!  Let's dig in and see if you're reinforcing that culture in all the gritty details of your talent acquisition/recruiting process. Remember - if your TA/Recruiting process doesn't match and promote your culture, you're not going to get the fit/matches you need in the candidate marketplace.


HR and recruiting leaders love assessment platforms. There's a good reason for that - it's incredibly hard to hire the right person for a specific job/company, and the right assessment platform can neutralize challenges in the interviewing skills of hiring managers and help you make the right selection decision. In addition, assessment platforms unlock the talent geek in all of us - we're fascinated by the science and validity of these tools.

Properly used, the right assessment platform can also help you build/reinforce company culture. But Rookietoo often we onboard assessment tools that are poor fits for our company culture or send candidates mixed messages about what's most important to our company. The result is we miss on top talent because we're focused on the wrong things.

Good news - there's a simple roadmap to follow if you want to use assessment platforms to identify top talent and drive culture, all while ensuring your organization has the diversity necessary to meet business challenges.  

1--When selecting a Behavioral Assessment platform to use in your recruiting process, size matters. It's easy to get lost in the science of behavioral assessments and want it all. With hundreds of providers competing for your attention, the result is bloat, as measured by how long it takes a candidate to complete the assessment (too long) and the size of the output report back to your recruiters/hiring managers (too many pages). 

Select an assessment platform that's light in both of these measurements. Simple things get used, complex things don't. An assessment platform that takes more than 20-25 minutes to complete is net negative to how a candidate views your culture, and any assessment report that can't be summarize a candidate to a hiring manager in a single page is unlikely to be used in a meaningful way.

Size matters. Be OK picking an assessment platform that provides 90% of the value in 50% of the time. 

2--Assessment platforms using pass/fail designations rob your company of behavioral/situational diversity.

Many assessment platforms sell the ability to give you a pass/fail, hire/don't hire answer on candidate selection. While this feature of certain assessment platforms is attractive, resist the urge to deploy this type of solution. The reality of selection in your company is much more nuanced than a hire/don't hire assessment solution can provide.

Deploying an assessment platform to assist in building/reinforcing culture is more complex. The reality is that hire/don't hire recommendations will only be available for specific jobs, and to truly use assessments for building/reinforcing culture, you'll want to use them for every job in your company. In addition, pass/fail designations rob your company of candidates who provide behavioral and situational diversity, whereas viewing each candidate profile across a variety of dimensions allows you to make tradeoffs and hire candidates who might have been rejected - with the expectation they'll need to be coached in certain areas

If you're building a great culture, it's likely you'll be committed to building a culture of coaching and feedback. There's no better example of this than looking at a team of 8-10 people across the assessment dimensions you use (recommend no more than 8 dimensions for simplicity) and seeing differences as well as similarities. Behavioral diversity matters, and you can't accomplish it with platforms that sell pass/fail.

3--The modern world of work mandates some behavioral categories are more important than others.

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."

That iconic quote from Ferris Bueller's Day Off underscores what everyone reading this understands - in today's business world, speed matters. There are few environments left where change doesn't occur on a daily basis. 5-year strategic plans have been replaced with a quarterly, if not monthly, focus.

As a result, some behavioral dimensions are more important than others to provide cultural and business fit.  To find cultural fit in the world of change that likely exists in your company, we recommend use of a solution that includes a cognitive element (helps you measure the ability to take in large amounts of data and make quick, accurate decisions) as well as rules orientation (measures comfort in unstructured, chaotic environments).

Add in dimensions like Detail Orientation and Sensitivity (both help measure ability to execute), and you've got a playbook for a candidate who can thrive in a culture of high change.  

4--Post-hire use of your behavioral assessment platform is key in developing a culture focused on employee development.

To truly unlock the ability to use assessment platforms to build and reinforce culture, you'll need to ensure that they're used after you've made your hiring decision. This requires partnership and collaboration between Talent Acquisition/Recruiting and the rest of the HR function.

First up - repurpose your assessment used in selection as an onboarding tool. Train your managers on how to run a session to share the assessment results with each new employee, describing what each dimension means and where the onboarding employee falls in those dimensions. Turn this 1/1 session into an introduction to coaching in your company culture by having the manager share "two strengths" (dimensions that will help the employee do great things) and "two opportunities" (dimensions that might trip up the employee from time to time if awareness is not high).

This 1/1 session sets the stage for future coaching and unlocks the potential of the recruiting assessment to maximize the company culture you're building moving forward.  


Views expressed are the product of the school of hard knocks, which includes watching my team at Kinetix represent great companies and brands on the RPO recruiting trail. Reach out if you ever need recruiting help while you build something great.

BUILDING CULTURE THROUGH RECRUITING #2: The Impact of Values, Potential Factors and Competencies...

Capitalist Note: This post is part of a series on Building/Reinforcing Company Culture Through Great Recruiting and Talent Acquisition Practices. 

Let's face it people, "company culture" is a loaded phrase. Some of it is real, some of it is aspirational, but one thing on my mind recently is that as we try to build the culture we want at our companies, we forget about the messages we send in our recruiting process.

So you're proud of your culture - cool!  Let's dig in and see if you're reinforcing that culture in all the gritty details of your talent acquisition/recruiting process. Remember - if your TA/Recruiting process doesn't match and promote your culture, you're not going to get the fit/matches you need in the candidate marketplace.


Do you have a mission statement or company values? (which we'll combine and simply call "values" or "company values" from here on out)

More importantly, do you have values that can actually be a net positive in your recruiting Netflixprocess?  With the job market hotter than ever, lame values won't cut it - candidates can smell phony or inactive company values that aren't real a mile away.  

Why have candidates become so adept at calling bullshit on our aspirational value statements? It's because so many companies claim items like "integrity" and "communication" to be part of their value structure.  Those are great values to have (and the need for them is real), but when everyone is claiming the same broad set of values, it's hard to stand out.

So how do you create company values that reinforce the culture you have and make candidates view you as an employer of choice? Here's 4 keys from our experience with our many recruiting clients at Kinetix: 

1--Make sure your company values invoke a sense of broader purpose and reflect the current challenges/mission you have. Candidates are increasingly seeking a sense of purpose in their work, so it makes sense to embed purpose in your values through connection to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) themes.  Companies like Unilever have gone all in on this approach and even mandated executives assign a purpose to every product in the company's portfolio. An examination of how Uber's company values changed after a period of turmoil show a transition from focusing on winning to working with others, serving community and valuing differences. Intent of your messaging matters.

2--Consider Potential Factors as an alternative to values when communicating culture. Some companies have made the decision to replace or supplement company values with Potential Factors. Potential Factors (and their related cousin, competencies) are designed to identify what a company values most in talent and as such, serve as a guide in how that company hires, promotes, rewards, and at times, fires. Your process for determining Potential Factors at your company revolves around what makes high performers at your company (regardless of position) successful.  

3--Consider swinging for the fence by activating audacious goals/themes across your mission, value statements and cultural collateral. Nothing activates candidate interest like big goals that stand out from the crowd called BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals). What are you chasing that's big? Are you brave enough to say it? Nike used a BHAG in the 1960's when their cultural goal was to "crush Adidas".  Elon Musk is using BHAGs at SpaceX today by pledging to put humans on Mars by 2024. For a more subtle approach, revisit the Netflix Culture Deck, which states that the goal of the streaming giant is to build a team that resembles a pro sports team rather than a traditional workforce.  

4--For true cultural activation, your values should appear across the recruit/perform/succession continuum. When it comes to communicating values, potential factors and BHAGs, most companies develop company values, print some posters, add pages to the intranet and call it a day. While developing an attractive set of values can help you on the recruiting trail if communicated properly, to truly unlock the cultural potential of values, companies must ensure values appear across the recruit/perform/succession continuum. That means once you develop values, you have to measure your people on their effectiveness in displaying those stated values to get results (regardless of their job) and ensure they impact promotion/succession decisions as well. 

If your values and other cultural tools aren't a part of your performance/succession process, you've got some work to do, either by incorporating what you have in those tools or starting your values/potential factors process from scratch.

Ideas matter when it comes to getting your share of great talent. Of course, you have to back that up with operational excellence in your people practice once you onboard candidates.


Views expressed are the product of the school of hard knocks, which includes watching my team at Kinetix represent great companies and brands on the RPO recruiting trail. Reach out if you ever need recruiting help while you build something great.

PODCAST: e5 - This is HR - Age Bias Claims at Google, HR Ideas That Can't Be Implemented, and Fake Job Postings on LinkedIn

(Email subscribers, if you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen to the podcast)

In Episode 5 of THIS IS HR, Jessica Lee (VP of Brand Talent, Marriott) is joined by Tim Sackett (President of HRU) and Kris Dunn (CHRO at Kinetix) for a discussion of industry news that only true HR pros could love.

The gang covers:

--Age Bias Claims recently settled at Google, with the search giant paying 11M to 200+ claimants, with the key claimant striking out/not being hired in 4 separate hiring process (4:54). The gang talks about how this represents a cheap reset on training and a move ahead strategy for Google.  Conversation also is had about what is "googly" and what is not.

--The THIS IS HR crew clears the deck and provides a platform for JLee to go off on a rant about progressive HR concepts that look great in small environments but are next to impossible to launch in big companies (13:03).

--A renegade firm highlights a bug in the LinkedIn development stack that allowed them to post a job for a CEO position at Google (21:49).  Spoiler alert - Google has a CEO and LinkedIn quickly shut down the bug and ruined the fun for the rest of us.  Tim talks about where to find ROI with your job posting money and the team explores the giant mess of skeletons that are created when aggregators automate posting from other aggregators, which means you can't get old stuff pulled down and other forms of resulting recruiting pain.

JLee, Tim and KD round out the show by talking about the most aggressive LinkedIn invite they have recently accepted  (32:36) - you know the vibe, you accept an invite and someone is automatically trying to sell you something.

THIS IS HR hates bad LinkedIn invites, but we hate ourselves when we accept them in moments of weakness/charity.

BUILDING CULTURE THROUGH RECRUITING #1: Your Team and Process Matters More Than You Think

Capitalist Note: This post is part of a series on Building/Reinforcing Company Culture Through Great Recruiting and Talent Acquisition Practices. 

Let's face it people, "company culture" is a loaded phrase. Some of it is real, some of it is aspirational, but one thing on my mind recently is that as we try to build the culture we want at our companies, we forget about the messages we send in our recruiting process.

So you're proud of your culture - cool!  Let's dig in and see if you're reinforcing that culture in all the gritty details of your talent acquisition/recruiting process. Remember - if your TA/Recruiting process doesn't match and promote your culture, you're not going to get the fit/matches you need in the candidate marketplace.


Every wonder if you have the right team and recruiting processes to support the communication of the culture have or are in the process of building – across the recruiting/TA team, interviewing approaches with hiring managers, application processes and more?

It's a loaded question. K1

You can have a culture that's one of the best in your industry - Googly even! - and if your recruiting team and the TA process don't support that culture, you're going to miss on the talent you need.

Conversely, if you're currently building your culture to a desired future state, getting some of the aforementioned factors right can help you get talent you might not yet deserve in the food chain of how candidates rank companies in their minds.

Here's some key areas to look at if you want your recruiting team and processes to support the communication of the culture you have (or are in the process of building):

1--Look to build a team of recruiters who look and sound like salespeople.

Say it with me - Recruiting is sales. If you have low energy recruiters who are transactional in nature and can't/won't sell the value proposition of your company, you're never going to get your fair share of the top talent you need to drive business results.  Notice I said top talent. Recruiters who don't want to sell can get you average talent, but only those who are willing to sell will help you get talent beyond what your brand and market position deserve.

The best way to spot a recruiter who is a sales person is to use a behavioral assessment with a cognitive component.  Markers of a salesperson look like this:

--High Cognitive
--High Assertiveness
--Low Rules
--Low to Mid Sensitivity
--Mid to High Extroversion
--Low Team (means they want an individual scoreboard that resets monthly, not that they are a bad teammate)

Find this profile with recruiting experience and you've got someone who will routinely sell your culture with the right tools and motivation from your leadership.

2. Match the length and intensity of your "apply for an open job" process with your culture.

Who are you? Are you the uber-serious company that requires a top secret clearance to make a hire, or are you pitching progressive workplace policies and a chill atmosphere? Somewhere in between perhaps?

How long it takes for a candidate to apply for a job should match your cultural intention. It's all about expectations. You can't have a 30-minute apply process and expect to exude an "it's all about the people" cultural vibe.  

There's no mandate you have to have an apply process that takes 2 minutes. You do you - but  remember you're signaling who you are as a company and what it's like to work for you.  Keep in mind your design in this area is a choice - and generally not mandated in a legal way. Items like "definition of an applicant" are more subjective and open to your positioning than you realize - even if your lawyers are telling you something different.

3. Post-Apply Messaging to candidates matters a lot.

You work hard to attract interest to your company's employment brand. You spend money to drive traffic to your career site/job openings and convert that traffic to applicant flow. 

Then something magical happens. Candidates who applied for a job at your company get an automated message from you, and that's the moment of truth.

"Thank you for your interest in Acme Industrial Products. Your credentials will be reviewed and we will contact you if there is an appropriate match with an open position. Due to the quantity of responses received for each job posting, a personal response to each candidate with further status updates will not be available. Your resume will be maintained in our files for one year and your qualifications will be considered for any future openings.


Does that initial response to the candidate match the culture you're trying to build? Of course not. Most ATS messaging can be customized, so there's no reason NOT to sound like a human who is actually interested in the candidate who's taken the time to apply when these automated messages go out.

Rewrite the messaging provided by your ATS provider. Sound like a human without overpromising, have some fun and if available, share links to great content on your career site that gives candidates a look into a day in the life at your company.

4. Have a plan when it comes to interview day - and create a high quality experience. 

Momentum is key when it comes to a recruiting process that reinforces your culture, and interview day is a test of sorts. 

A test for your culture as well as the candidate.

To pass this cultural test, you'll need organization and quality. Organization is the easy part, with agendas going out to the candidate before they arrive, warm greetings, tours and most importantly, qualified, empathetic interviewers who can sell your company and the culture you've built.

Qualified interviewers are generally trained and have a methodology (think behavioral interviewing, etc.), as well as empathy during interviewing sessions. That design is all about making the candidate feel like the process is a conversation - even as you get exactly what you need as an interviewer. Natural interviewers can do it all - including selling your company, culture and the opportunity. For everyone else, you're going to need a training plan to get most of your hiring managers and interviewers up to speed.

We send signals on culture with every contact we have candidates (personal and automated). Make sure your messages match the culture you have or the culture you're in the process of building.


Views expressed are the product of the school of hard knocks, which includes watching my team at Kinetix represent great companies and brands on the RPO recruiting trail. Reach out if you ever need recruiting help while you build something great.

Headphones at Work - Individual Contributor vs Manager of People...

In case you missed it, new research from AVS Forum polled 800 individuals for perceptions of people who wear headphones at work, at the gym and on public transportation. The full summary graph appears below (email subscribers, click through to my site if you don't see the graph).

TL:DR: Headphones don't make you viewed as pretentious as you might think - they've never been more accepted in the workplace, which makes 100% sense given the open floor plans in most of our organizations.


One thing that the research didn't address was level of employee - my gut tells me headphones are most accepted for individual contributors, and maybe even for those who want to remain individual contributors for the foreseeable future.

So let's talk about upward mobility and headphone/earbud use.

First up - I'm not anti-headphones or a member of the abolish headphones at work party.  I get it - people can getHeadphones_at_work into a groove with certain types of jobs (creative, transactional, etc.) with the vibe that music provides.  That's cool and I'm all for it.  I also get that headphones are often an attractive option for dealing with the noise intrusion that comes with living in a cube environment.

But here's the reality that goes along with headphones in the workplace:

1) Managers of people probably need to limit their headphone time.  Managers can't afford to not be aware of their surroundings and be approachable.  Managers take calls and walk-ins from other managers, external partners and their superiors who put them in the job in the first place.  More importantly, managers are expected to be available for the teams they lead.  Nothing says, "I'm not approachable" more than a manager wearing headphones or earbuds. 

Well, maybe a closed door all the time says that to a greater extent.  But you get my point.

2) Employees who want to be upwardly mobile into the manager ranks typically take less headphone time. The type of employee who migrates into a managerial role is naturally available.  They thrive on the walk-in traffic and a service orientation to those who approach them.  For that reason, they wear headphones less than others.  The resulting service and approachability contribute to the organizational logic that they're good candidates to manage people.

So, if you are wearing headphones and are productive - ROCK ON.   It's all good and whatever makes you productive is a good thing.

Just be aware of what that says about your desire to lead teams if you have them on for 5-6 hours a day....

I'm just sayin'.....

WORK TEXTING: Nothing Good Ever Happens After You See These 2 Things...

Back in the day, you sent an email and if someone didn't respond, you weren't sure it was because they thought your idea sucked or they were just behind on emails.  

Not so with text.  The immediacy of texting means we get feedback in real time.  Usually, it's quick bursts of texting to react to ideas or share information - occasionally it's to ask permission or gain approval.  It's rare that you don't hear back from someone on a text. 

However there are times when a middle ground is present. Tai

It’s called the “typing awareness indicator", the little bubbles you see after you send a text.  It means that someone is texting you back.  Which is fine, except for these two occasions at work:

1. Someone takes more than 30 seconds to respond, and you see the awareness indicator the whole time.  Nothing ever good came after 30-60 seconds of that indicator being on.  The message is usually complicated and adds drama to your life at work.

2. The typing awareness indicator is on for the pre-mentioned 30-60 seconds, then it goes off, never to return. They thought about it, then thought the better of it.  Meh.

Both mean that the quick approval or consensus you're looking for won't be happening.

I turned off my typing awareness indicator. I found myself staring at it for periods of time that were unhealthy.  

I'm more sane at work as a result.  It's the little things that matter the most.

When Turnover Is High But That Means You're World Class...

Good leaders attract followers; great leaders create more leaders.

Turnover sucks.

Except when people promote themselves by leaving you, and you have a track record of that being the primary cause of your turnover. Saban

Football season is upon us, and no one has more people leave them for a better job than University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban.  Consider the following stats from Inc:

Let's talk about Nick Saban, the head football coach at the University of Alabama.

Among other things, his teams have won six national championships (five at Alabama and one when he was the head coach at Louisiana State University). But now, he's getting credit for something else -- a statistic that might seem a mixed blessing, but one that truly great leaders will recognize for the compliment that it is. 

It's that Saban's team endures (or maybe "enjoys") near-constant churn among his assistant coaches. 

In fact, as The Wall Street Journal points out, not a single on-field assistant coach remains on the team today who was there when Alabama last won the national championship in 2017.

Fully 38 assistants have moved on since 2007. A key point here is that most of the assistants leave for jobs with a higher profile or more responsibility elsewhere.

As of 2018, USA Today calculated that there were 15 former Saban assistants in head coaching jobs in either the NFL or college football. That list doesn't count Michael Locksley, who left Alabama earlier this year to become the head coach this year at the University of Maryland.

It also doesn't count former assistants who are now working at a higher level -- but who aren't head coaches in their own right.

Saban is known as a hard boss - see the endless videos of him losing his sh#t towards an assistant on the sideline - but people don't want to work for him because they'll be treated with courtesy. They want to work for him because the assignment is a springboard to better things.

If people hate you and leave for lateral moves, that's on you and it's not great.

If people like or hate you and leave for a better position after a short period of time, that's a compliment.

Context matters with turnover.


PODCAST: e4 - This is HR - Women's Soccer Pay Equity, Management by 2Pac, Productivity Woes

(Email subscribers, if you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen to the podcast)

In Episode 4 of THIS IS HR, Jessica Lee (VP of Brand Talent, Marriott) is joined by Tim Sackett (President of HRU) and Kris Dunn (CHRO at Kinetix) for a discussion of industry news that only true HR pros could love.

The gang covers:

--Shots fired in pay equity between the USA Women's National Soccer team and the US Soccer Federation, which have different talking points when comparing total comp of the USA Men's and USA Women's National Soccer Teams (3:19).

--A Iowa state Director of Human Services gets canned for broad use of 2Pac lyrics in his management style, which begs the gang to wonder aloud how much 2Pac is too much if you're trying to lead a department of public servants... in Iowa (18:40).

--A new productivity study is out and has some interesting outcomes related to which days are the most productive (22:15).  The gang has issues with some of the findings, including that Thursdays suck.

KD closes it out by forgoing the mailbag and forcing the JLee and Tim to pick a single 2Pac song that most represents their management style, which includes the awkward reading of rap lyrics to defend said favorite 2Pac songs (28:53)

Just another day in the office at THIS IS HR.  

Taking My First to College: One Reflection from the Capitalist...

It happened.

Last Thursday, we took my oldest son to college.

Drew Dunn is the first member of the Dunn nuclear family to leave the nest. For some pictures, take a look at the embedded Instagram post below (email subscribers can click through on the post or click this link if you don't see the IG post below).

I did fine - He's ready. He'll do great, and it's probably more important for him to be ready for the times he doesn't do great related to the next four years.  The world we live in tells us we have to be perfect, and he's a bit obsessive when he turns his full focus on something. That's an incredible asset when it comes to getting results, but can be be a derailer if you don't keep it all in perspective.

I started thinking on the drive back from moving him into college about what I've learned in the 19 years we've had him under our roof. What have I learned that I wish I would have known 1, 5, 10 and 15 years into his life?

What advice would I give the younger version of me (as well as parents in the early stages of raising a kid)?

There's a ton of things I wish I knew back then. I'll share one big one that comes to mind, and I'm sure I'm not alone in learning this lesson from the school of hard knocks in parenting.

A lot of what I was worried about as my son grew up was complete Bullsh*t.

The biggest load of bullshit? The comparison between your kid and others that invariably goes on in your mind as they grow up. It's all or mostly Bullsh*t.  Here's some examples:

Who's talking first?

Who's reading first?

Who's ugly?  Who's pretty?

Is my kid where he needs to be academically? How do we make him better?  Are we working hard enough?

Related to interests outside the classroom (could be sports, the arts, etc.), is my kid where he needs to be?  How do I make him better?

What's my kid's ACT score?  How's that compare to others?  What can we do to improve it?

All bullshit.  To be clear, I'm a big believer in the fact you have to train your kids to compete in life.  So to the extent you push your kids to excel in all the things listed above and more, you're doing the right thing. You gotta compete, because the world's a tough place.  I put Drew solidly in the "achiever" camp.

But the bullshit is what we do after we use comparison to gauge where we are and use it as ammo to compete. We obsess over where our kid is at in any pecking order, including the unattainable. We lose sleep over it. We chase resources to improve our kid's lot in any of the areas (and more) listed above to improve their lot in life.  We point fingers and try to drag others down (hopefully only in our mind), often times not even being aware that we're doing it.

We're all guilty. You're in denial if you say you're not as a parent.

Along the way, bad things happen to other kids who are great in a lot of ways. We judge and rationalize that. We see kids and families emerge late or fade away late in all the areas above, and we rationalize and obsess some more. 

None of it means anything. As long as you competed from where you started and did the work, you won.  If you're healthy, free of addiction and of sound mind, you have already won.

Comparison is the thief of joy.  

Celebrating what you accomplished is key - regardless of whatever your "slot" is.

If I could give younger parents one piece of advice, it would be this. Use comparison with other kids as a means to compete in all the areas that matter to you and move up a few notches.

Then chill the F out. 

Maybe you could celebrate the hell out of the small moves, and don't worry that your kid isn't going to make it to Broadway, the NFL, on American Idol or <Insert the stupid a** comparison, national or hyper-local that made you feel bad here>.

It's not about being number one, it's about the journey/process/road travelled, and your kid doing better than he/she would have done without some focus.  We learn it a bit with our second-borns as all parents chill out with the second one a bit.  But it's not enough.

It's about work and habits and nothing else. Comparisons that consume you as a parent mean nothing at the end.  

That's what I wish I could tell the 2004 version of me. 

I'm not sure he would have listened.