Looking back to look forward

The story behind my goal to become the best leader I can be begins at about 1:00 am on December 3 when I received the worst kind of phone call anyone can ever receive. My father called to inform me that my mom—his wife of 58 years and grandmother to my three kids—passed away in her sleep. It was a total shock and tragedy that our family has yet to get over. She was the central figure in our family, the mastermind of gatherings with friends and family that always brought us all together. I had never fully contemplated what it might feel like to be without her—to wake up one day without a mom.

Mom and me doing what she loved

In the ensuing grief of losing my mom, my number one fan and perhaps the person who unconditionally loved me the most, I began asking myself whether I had been the best son I could have been? Had I called often enough? Had I visited enough? Had I told her how much I loved her often enough? If my mom were here to debate me, I am sure she would say that is ridiculous, that she would never have asked for anything more from a son, but it is impossible to not look back and wonder.

In the days after my mom’s death, I found myself searching for some way that I need to be different going forward. In an attempt to console my sister and father in their grief and to address my own, I proposed that we three could live differently and with a shared mission: We would live the rest of our lives in a way that we would have no regrets about the relationships we had with the people we care about. The idea being to live in the moment with the knowledge that our future selves would look back, and to make sure there would be no regrets.

The more I thought about making this my personal mission, the more it influenced how I thought about the professional goals I might set for myself in the new year. I kept coming back to the same concept: Looking back at my performance from the future and making sure I have no regrets. Ultimately, I translated this into the goal of becoming the best leader I can possibly be for the colleagues I care about.

As the CEO of an amazing company called World 50 that I am privileged to be part of (and even more privileged to represent ), we measure our progress on new empirical goals every year, plus a handful of qualitative ones—achieve this, build that, start this new thing. While it is not possible to map becoming the best leader I can be to any of those goals, it still feels like the right goal for me and the company, too.

A handful of retired CEOs I am lucky to know and admire, such as Hubert Joly and Steve Grimshaw, taught me that building the best company you can—one that is led by a meaningful purpose and makes a positive impact on customers and employees alike—is always the best north star. The rationale is that other forms of success will come if you focus on that. World 50 is at the stage where its success in creating positive impact for our members is increasingly in the hands of my many talented colleagues more than my own. Being the best leader I can be is in service of these goals. Better said, it is probably what my colleagues, if not also our members, most deserve from me.

I find the lens of looking at actions or decisions as if from the future to be an effective one. What action or decision would my future self wish I made? I have used the method to make many a decision, whether how to spend a family holiday or what new investment World 50 should or should not make. I had not really considered using it in the more abstract sense of becoming a better version of myself. It will be new territory, but territory I relish the pursuit of.

Like every leader, there is never a shortage of ways to improve. I can listen better. Communicate better. Allocate time more wisely. Facilitate better collaboration. The list is long. My plan is to look back at the end of each day and ask myself how I did. At the end of the week. At the end of the month. Not just my own self-assessment but also by soliciting candid feedback along the way. It will be an ongoing journey and I will continue to drink my own Kool-Aid by learning from the amazing leaders World 50 serves. After nearly a dozen years of being CEO, I see this as a refreshing challenge.

The year 2022 is not a year I will recall fondly. However much I wish I could go back and tell my mom how much I love her, hug her one more time, or just hear her voice, the one way arrow of time will not grant me any such opportunity. While I wish someone had told me, “You are going to lose your mom one day. Act accordingly,” I am not going to let my new knowledge go to waste. At the end of 2023, I hope to be able to say that I was the best father, husband, son, brother and friend I could be. I also hope to be able to say that I was the best colleague and leader I could be. Both goals will mean doing things differently, behaving differently, with my future self on my shoulder. Neither will be easy—old habits die hard—but I have the best motivation I could ever have: The mom I love and miss so much.

Want to Increase Collaboration? Run a Hackathon.

post it and table

Want to increase collaboration inside your organization? Perhaps also get something long overdue done? Maybe build your culture along the way? I strongly encourage you to consider running a hackathon.

I first heard the term “hack” applied to designing or creating something in business from serial CMO, Cammie Dunaway. She described a “hack day” where her team would spend a whole day creating a plan to beat the company they worked at as if they were in a startup trying to do so. Cammie said, “Every employee brings an idea that challenges the status quo.” They used the ideas to improve their own strategy. She added, “When team building meets innovation, the results can amaze.”

The next time I heard of something similar was from then head of Philips Electronics’ consumer division, Andrea Ragnetti, who put in place an around-the-world “simplicity day.” Andrea said, “We stopped the company for a ‘simplicity day’ and 137,000 people stopped working for an entire day.” Starting in Philips’ Far East offices, people worked in teams and then passed their best ideas westward to colleagues in later time zones. Ideas that started in Japan, China, Australia, India, etc., were passed on to offices in the Middle East, Europe and Africa to be iterated and built upon, and then from there on to the Americas, essentially following the sun around the world. Philips scattered its leadership team around the world to be in key offices as ideas were created, nurtured and, ultimately, turned into tangible recommendations as the sun set in the Western Hesmisphere. Andrea shared: “When you bring thousands of people together [in various offices] like that, the biggest ‘wow’ was it showed the organization that there was a future that was different from what they had seen in the past.”

The first time I came across the actual word “hackthon” was while designing a collaborative program with Facebook. We were bringing a group of CMOs and CIOs to Facebook’s campus and, as part of developing ideas for the program, Facebook shared a story of how they conduct hackathons. This video is one example. Essentially, the engineers put aside their normal work and instead work around the clock on a single objective without stopping—except maybe for pizza and beer—until finished. The key, as they described it, was that it needs to be something that would not get done anytime soon otherwise and that the hackathon is not over until whatever they create “gets shipped”—e.g., goes live.

With Facebook’s help, we took those CMOs and CIOs through a mock hackathon. We gave them real world challenges to solve in groups, brought in pizza and beer, and put them side-by-side with Facebook engineers. They went at it probably too late into the night to still be working on a mock exercise. They seemed to enjoy it and, moreover, gained experience on how to recreate hackathons back in their own organizations. I left intent to try it myself.

The model Facebook employs seems consistent with the modern interpretation of what a hackathon is. Says dictionary.com:



noun Digital Technology

  1. a usually competitive event in which people work in groups on software or hardware projects, with the goal of creating a functioning product by the end of the event: At the hackathon our team produced an app that helps you monitor your sleeping habits.

It certainly seems to make sense for tech companies, but what if you want to increase collaboration or get something long overdue done in your company and computer programming has little or nothing to do with your business? What I have learned from eight consecutive years of conducting hackathons in World 50, plus some elsewhere, is that they should work in nearly any business. Do they increase collaboration? Definitely. Do they enable getting something long overdue done? Usually. Those objectives aside, I have come to appreciate an even higher order purposes for conducting hackathons: Building corporate culture; steeping new employees in the subtleties of your business; getting everyone in the organization on the same page; and building relationships across the enterprise.


Here is the formula we have found works best:

  • Pick a single, important objective. Something that will make a difference. Something that matters. Something most everyone can contribute to and, especially, something that provides a positive, learning experience.
  • Everyone participates. Yes, of course you need to check for important messages from clients. And, yes, there was that one year our finance team needed a hall pass to get an audit finished. But making sure everyone participates is crucial.
  • Dedicate one entire normal business day. Let’s be honest: not everyone is a twenty-something software engineer willing to stay up all night like they did in college. You need not go around the clock. Start at your company’s normal start time and go until the normal end of the day.
  • Hold it in your office. Resist the temptation to go offsite. If you want the experience to have lasting impact, it needs to be in the same place people normally work.
  • Provide plenty of fuel. Bring in breakfast. Bring in lunch. Bring in a barista. Have snacks galore. No one should have to leave for any reason.
  • Break into teams. Mix them up. You can have morning teams and then different teams in the afternoon. Whatever works for the objective, but, regardless, make sure teams comprise people who do not usually work together.
  • Have plenty of supplies. Collaboration, prototypes and team presentations require Post-it notes, flip charts, butcher paper rolls, markers, glue, tape, etc. It should like you’re getting ready for a craft fair.
  • Shark Tank the ideas. Award prizes. Conclude the day by having teams present their ideas. Keep presentations short. Give out meaningful prizes. Lots of them. The winning idea for sure, but also awards like best presentation, most entertaining, most immediately actionable, and so on. At World 50, prizes range from gift cards to iPods to a day off.
  • Reinforce rituals. Weave in things that reinforce your culture. At World 50, we cater the lunch with a certain taqueria place that was near our original office so we can tell stories about the early days that provide lessons for today.

With that formula, the only thing you need is to pick a suitable objective. Use these criteria:

  • Would make an impact on the business if created, solved or improved
  • Would benefit from people across the company working on it
  • Worthy of accelerating the completion of (unlikely to be done soon otherwise)
  • Can make material progress on it in one day
  • Can be broken down into piece parts and/or tackled in small teams
  • Will teach new hires things they should know about the business and company
  • The output can be presented in some way (e.g., posters, prototype, a skit)
  • Would be fun to work on

You need not check every box above. Use your judgement. Here are some examples that have worked for World 50:

  • Create a culture video. Kick it off with some tips from a professional videographer and then set your teams loose. Post the winning video on your website. We posted our culture video on World 50’s culture site.
  • Map your customer journey. Then hack it. Use morning teams to map your customer journey in excruciating detail. (As reference, Ram Charan once told me taking a commercial flight has 65 touch points.) After lunch, the afternoon teams work on improving different parts of the journey.
  • Enhance your product. Break into teams. Each team has the challenge to deliver value to clients as you do now, but with some constraint. For World 50, teams had constraints like these: clients can no longer fly; we can no longer use the phone; no use of email; and so on. Teams need to bolster the other product features to make up for what was taken away.
  • New product development. Put in some ground rules like: must be a new product, or a new customer segment, or through a new channel, etc.
  • Your business on a box. Want to improve your messaging? How would you convey your value proposition to clients if the only thing you could use was a single box? At the right point in the day, play the famous Microsoft-if-Apple video for inspiration.
  • Disrupt yourself. Each team is a startup with adequate funding to go after your business. Seriously consider funding the best idea(s).

A few simple guidelines for success include: Every voice counts (hierarchy and seniority should not weigh too much); messy is good, but spend the early part getting properly organized into teams, establish a timeline, etc.; teams not too big or small can work in parallel on either the same thing or on different things, so long as there is a main theme ruling the day; and try to avoid repeating past years. This year (today) for World 50, we are taking a bigger risk: There are no instructions (other than this post). I am sequestering the leadership team separately and we are not going to not show up until the readout and awards at the end. I cannot wait to see what our terrific colleagues come up with!

Lastly, remember the goals you set out with at the start. Regardless of the quality in what the teams produce, if you see collaboration across silos, new hires learning the business and, especially, the reinforcement of positive cultural traits, consider it a win. Mark the date on your calendar and repeat every year. Good luck!

David Wilkie

@davidwilkie / #davidwilkie

Why we wear costumes to work on Halloween

Halloween is a big deal at World 50. And while it says a lot about our culture, it also sheds light on how to build and reinforce culture in other organizations.

An important caveat right up front: While wearing costumes to work might sound like fun, this is about much more than making work fun, attractive to millennials, or creating Instagram-worthy posts. Do not get me wrong, we very much want World 50 to be a fun place to work—and I am proud of the fact that for many it is—but culture can be a real, tangible, competitive advantage when you get it right.

To put Halloween in context at World 50, we politely warn new colleagues who have joined since the last Halloween: “You do not want to show up without a costume!” Surely, many worry how seriously they should heed that warning (they probably should), what constitutes a legitimate enough of a costume (a head-to-toe rabbit suit is not overdoing it), and whether they might be better off taking the day off (no, it is too good to miss).


For Halloween 2017, nearly every World 50 associate showed up that morning in full costume. There were Star Wars characters: Alex wore a head-to-toe Chewbacca suit; Joan was Princess Leia; and Dan was Obi-Wan Kenobi. We had the Spice Girls. Not the singing group, but a play on the word with a group dressed as McCormick spice bottles. We had Mario and Luigi from the hit video game in full costume riding tricycles. We had Julia Child, Beyoncé (specifically her birth announcement), Game of Thrones characters, and everything you could imagine. Even those working remotely were in costume for the video meetings. Everyone voted on prizes for the scariest, funniest, best team, best overall and more.

In other words: We take Halloween very seriously. But buried in that is something more important: We do not take ourselves too seriously, and that is a big part of the World 50 culture. Without going into too much detail, in the business World 50 is in—building peer communities for C-level execs at Fortune 500 companies to help them stay ahead—it would be easy to get caught up in a sense of self-importance. But we need to remember our clients (“members” as we call them) join because of each other, not because of us—we even say, “It’s not about us.” To reinforce that, a core part of our culture is: “Take what we do seriously, but do not take ourselves too seriously.” But like any part of any culture, wanting or saying something has very little meaning or impact. It is what you “do” that matters. And therein is the learning for any organization.


Culture is not what you write on the walls or in an employee handbook. It is what people do. No amount of wishing for culture will get you there. Instead, consider developing a set of traditions—what I like to call rituals and artifacts—that build and reinforce the culture you want and need. Halloween at World 50 is one of the many rituals in every World 50 calendar year. The others—Hackathon, Internal Summit, Winship 5k, chili cook-off, everyone-gets-holiday-week-off goals, all-team meetings, Nicole Award, and more—are each unique but all serve the purpose of reinforcing culture. In the case of Halloween at World 50, we let our hair down, show some vulnerability, laugh at and with each other, and take lots of pictures—all physical manifestations and emotional expressions of not taking ourselves too seriously. The trophies we sometimes hand out and get displayed by winners in their work areas become artifacts that serve as “artifacts” to the traditions.

It is worth noting that by “culture” I am referring—in almost an anthropological sense—to how a community defines and (equally important) renews itself. In fact, “rituals” and “artifacts” are often what anthropologists talk about when describing a community or society, i.e., a unity of people with shared beliefs and norms. This is important because how to operate the business of World 50 could possibly be captured in a single three-ring binder that would be easy to photocopy. What would be nearly impossible to copy is a culture 12 years in the making that is very much aligned to delivering what we do. Since much of World 50’s success is based on nuance and having associates in nearly every role being able to say “this looks and feels like World 50” or not, no manual, process or set of instructions can duplicate that. Only culture can.

If having a culture that provides your business a sustainable competitive advantage is important to you, consider what traditions you maintain and seriously commit to rituals and artifacts that, year in and year out, build and reinforce it. Experiment and tweak. You will not get everything right the first try. But once you find what embodies the culture you want in actually doing, feeling, saying, etc., stick with it.







Why does Noma only have two Michelin stars?

How can the supposed best restaurant in the world have only two Michelin stars? The answer provides lessons for business leaders.

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Eating at the famous Copenhagen restaurant Noma with some longstanding professional friends is a fortunate privilege I am lucky to have experienced. Writing about the experience sounds like bragging, and I have plenty of hard-working colleagues who make it possible, so I’m not going to wax on about how wonderful it is. Instead, I’d like to explore why the restaurant many consider to be the best in the world has not yet achieved the renowned Michelin Guide’s highest rating?

Contributing to Noma’s reputation as the world’s best is its retaking of top honors by the prestigious San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards—an award it has now won four times. Albeit not the 114-year old Michelin Guide, the award is “viewed as the Oscars of fine dining,” suggesting that Noma might indeed “be” the best restaurant in the world, if there is such a thing.

On the other hand, Noma has only two Michelin stars, meaning there are about 100 restaurants in the world Michelin considers better. Opinion on Noma’s inability to get a third Michelin star ranges from outrage to Michelin’s own sanguine opinion on the matter: “It will happen one day, I’m sure. It’s a very good two-star restaurant and sits easily in the guide,” says Rebecca Burr, editor-in-chief of the guide.

The Michelin Guide was founded in 1900 as a way to encourage driving and thus demand for tires. The original guide contained useful information such as maps and—surprise, surprise—how to change a tire. Professional reviewers visit—always anonymously—and rate on a three star system that is essentially based on how much of a detour the restaurant is worth taking (remember, it’s a tire company): one star if you’re already in that town; two stars, well, that’s worth a detour; and three stars makes for a worthy destination unto itself. Keep in mind, this is not a movie rating system. Godzilla gets a 73% rating on RottenTomatoes.com and thus a red tomato, but it would surely not get a single Michelin star—only about 2,000 restaurants worldwide have any Michelin stars.

Okay, so back to Noma. Best restaurant in the world by many accounts, but only two Michelin stars. Why? Here’s how our evening unfolded…

When we first arrived at the unassuming restaurant that Noma is, we were welcomed outside the front door by one of the staff and again once inside by no small gathering of Noma staff—one great big family-size welcome if you will. We were then shown to a relatively simple and unadorned wood table. Wait, no linens? No clusters of silverware and empty glasses in anticipation of the courses and wine servings to come? Nope. I remember recalling an upscale pizza place I enjoy taking my family—yes I said upscale, but in respect to pizza places, not supposedly the best restaurant in the world.

Next came wet towels to wash our hands with, along with the explanation that we will be eating much of the meal with our hands, family style. Eating with our hands? Family style? Perhaps my pizza place analogy wasn’t far off after all. After selecting preferences for juice or wine, the 23-course meal began. In reasonably rapid succession, though never more than two at any one time, course after course appears. First the “appetizer” series such as “Nordic coconut,” “Moss and cep, “Pickled and smoked quails egg,” “Flatbread with wild roses,” and “Burnt leek and cod roe,” followed by “entrées” such as “Beef tartar” with ants and “Turbot and nasturtium.” Then the “desserts” like “Rhubarb and sorrel” and “Crème fraiche and Spanish chervil” followed by the “sweets”—the desserts were apparently not sweet—such as “Aronia berries and söl.” So the evening went. The food was terrific, sometimes even spectacular, and often visually worthy of “food selfies” such as those my tablemates took…

Nordic coconutMoss and cep

Pickled and smoked quails eggFlatbread with wild rosesBurnt leek and cod roeBeef tartar with ants

Black currant leaves and barleyGreen aspargus and scallop?

Each course was delivered to the six of us by a few servers—in synchronized fashion as you’d expect from any fine restaurant—with an additional person there to explain that course—the “presenter” if you will. Each new course seemed to bring us different servers and presenters. Instead of a designated waiter for our table, it seemed the entire staff came to our table either delivering or explaining the food. We were eating family style, and they were serving family style. Nice.

Eating at Noma naturally entails talking about the meal with your tablemates. Someone raised the observation of Noma’s top rating yet only two Michelin stars, which led to many observations on why that might be the case. Someone noticed that when you went to the washroom, the staff did nothing with your napkin. Some highfalutin restaurants fold your napkin and place it in the proper place, if not replace it entirely (not very conservation-minded when you think about it). Not Noma: Where and how you leave it is where you find it. Fine with me.

Another thing I noticed: They rarely changed the plates or silverware. Twenty-three courses at some high-end restaurants might mean 23 plates and 23 sets of silverware. At Noma, just a couple of changes: I only recall between apps and entrées and again before desserts. To keep your plate clean, a server occasionally wipes it with a towel. I wonder how toweling off your plate was perceived by the anonymous Michelin reviewer?

The Noma staff also has some levity. When one of the entrée dishes was placed, as the presenter started to explain, “This turbot…” he was interrupted by one of the servers, with the quip: “These are mushrooms from Zimbabwe.” Clearly it was not a mushroom dish and doubtful the turbot was from Zimbabwe, so we all laughed aloud, including the presenter. It was subtle but important for setting the tone: The staff wasn’t taking itself too seriously and neither should we; they were there to have fun, so we should too. I was trying to imagine dining at a Michelin three-star restaurant I know in New York City and a server interrupting with a fabricated description intended to make everyone laugh—it would never happen.

All of this began to add up to why Noma did not have three Michelin stars. How could it? It does not even try to meet the very high service expectations three-star restaurants are known for. And that’s the brilliance of it. I’ve often heard Noma compared to Alinea, considered by many to be America’s best restaurant. But whereas Alinea’s dishes are so technical chef Grant Achatz has to have a Chicago mechanical engineering company invent machines so he can prepare them, Noma’s dishes feel as if they could have been prepared “in a barn” from ingredients “found in the field” as someone at my table suggested. Do not get me wrong: Alinea is terrific, possibly more innovative and maybe even better food-wise, but eating at Alinea will never be considered relaxing or simple.

Toward the end of the evening, we asked the Noma staffer who had seemingly settled into being our official host, “Why doesn’t Noma have three stars?” His answer could be succinctly stated as this: “Because we don’t want to.” Well, maybe that’s not quite fair. He explained that ratings matter and they would be honored to have the third star, but they don’t want to change what they do just to achieve it. While they may not want all the linens or the constant plate and silverware change outs, what it seems they really don’t want is all the pretense and stuffiness that might go with trying to achieve service perfection. They want to have fun and they want it to be relaxed—for their patrons—but I sensed first most for themselves. It is their own work environment, after all—their own culture really—that they are protecting.

At most high-end restaurants there are two sides of the swinging door: the kitchen side, where the real culture of the establishment exists; and then the dining side, where tuxedos are pulled tight and every nuance of fine dining is adhered to with surgical precision. Therein lies the great innovation, or perhaps contradiction, that is Noma: Remarkable food—with farm-to-table simplicity but as sophisticated as any in the world—delivered in a comfortably relaxed and friendly environment that depicts exactly the way the staff wants to work, regardless of whether they are in the kitchen or the dining room.

Noma provides an important lesson for business leaders. Company culture used to be something locked up behind closed doors at headquarters and how customers were serviced was managed with process and procedures, just like the façade servers create at fine dining establishments. Nowadays, culture is out in the open for everyone to see, and process and procedures are harder to instill with today’s mobile workforce. Companies need their associates to grasp the company’s purpose and how that translates to servicing clients much more quickly and without much if any formal training. It is culture that makes this possible. Hiring for the right culture fit is critical, of course, but the culture employees experience on the job dramatically shapes the way they interact with customers. Essentially, culture is more than just trying to make the office a fun place to work and has become something customers see. Those that get it right will create competitive advantage.

Leaders need to also remember to be careful what they pursue. A business-minded Noma might modify what it was doing in an effort to gain that third star, only to lose what made it the best restaurant in the world. The secret to happy customers: Have happy employees who enjoy what they do. My memory of the food will fade over time (except maybe for the beef with ants), but the one thing that will make me want to go back will be to enjoy how they turn a remarkably innovative menu into a wonderfully relaxed dining experience—provided they never get that third Michelin star. Whether or not I am lucky enough to ever go back, thank you Noma for a terrific example of how culture drives success.

What “no brown M&Ms” means to quality control

I was struck by a story about the rock band Van Halen and their insistence on having all of the brown M&Ms removed from the M&M bowls in the backstage catering. At first glance, it sounds like some vain request. Why would someone want M&Ms yet want the brown ones removed? We all know the different colors all taste the same, so it would seem to serve no other purpose than creating unnecessary work for some unfortunate soul tasked with picking out all the brown ones. As it turns out, however, requesting to have the brown M&Ms removed was a stroke of genius with good reason. Watch this video to hear why…

Brown M&Ms from Van Halen on Vimeo.

If you don’t watch the video, here’s an excerpt of what David Lee Roth says. If you did watch the video, skip the italicized text.

Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine 18-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors—whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through. 

The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say “Article 148: There will be 15 amperage voltage sockets at 20 foot spaces, evenly, providing 19 amperes . . .” This kind of thing. And article No. 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: “There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.” 

So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

This story made me think about the philosophy of leaving nothing to chance when it comes to absolute assurance in quality.

In the case of the company I work for, World 50, providing a high-quality service every single time is paramount. Our members simply expect it of usand they should. Delivering upon it once or even a few times is hard enough, but time and again, without exception, is another matter. I am often in awe of how we are able to consistently do so, but like every organization, there’s always room for improvement and for World 50, we know however good we are, we can never settle and must keep raising the bar.

I suspect that if one of Van Halen’s production companies came to understood the meaning of the “no brown M&Ms” the need to actually remove the brown ones from catering was no longer required. I can still imagine, though, David Lee Roth, as he walked on stage for the pre-concert sound check, saying out loud to the production crew, “Remember, no brown M&Ms! Right?” and their understanding of what he meant: no detail could be left unattended to.

When I look back at instances when we weren’t at our best, when something didn’t go quite right, rarely was it something completely unexpected or out of the blue. Rather, it was almost always something that could have been predicted in advance. That realization begs the question: If we simply ask ourselves, “What could possibly go wrong?” every single time, in advance and without exception, we can probably anticipate and avoidor at least prepare forjust about every conceivable challenge we will encounter. Consistently delivering high quality is simply expecting it of yourself, every time, and doing whatever it takes to make it so, with nothing left to chance.

Next time you and your team are preparing for something bigbe it an event, a meeting, a product launch or whatever pertains to your endeavorsask yourself and your team, “Are there any brown M&Ms?”

I Run for Nikki

A little over a year ago, on September 12, 2012, World 50 participated in its first corporate run/walk event at the Kaiser Permanente 5K Corporate Run/Walk in Atlanta. Nearly three-quarters of the company participated. It was an impressive turnout. In usual World 50 style, various factions formed in an attempt to win certain race categories; and the day ended with what was surely the best company BBQ there, bringing together runners, kids, spouses, friends and an awesome crew.


Among the 47 World 50 associates who participated was one of its newest, Nicole Rouis, or “Nikki” as her friends and family called her. Nikki was a gifted athlete. She had been a decorated soccer player in high school and as a runner her athletic grace showed through. I know she enjoyed the day and for that I’m grateful. What none of us knew—inlcuding Nikki herself—is that she ran with a late stage malignant brain tumor that she would discover two months later and would take the life of this vibrant young woman in just four months.

Nikki Running 1

In the short time Nikki was part of World 50 she inspired us with her energy, attitude and teamwork. She was considerate and sweet, hard working, and possessed an quiet sense of humor that was impossible not to appreciate. When her colleagues learned of her illness, they rallied to her support like they had known her for years, starting with the creation of “Team Nicole.”

Team Nicole 1

It helps to have talented graphic designers in the company.

Nicole Final

I have been proud to be part of World 50 on many occasions, but never as proud as then. We only got to see Nikki one more time, at World 50’s 2012 holiday party. Team Nicole seized the opportunity to show how much she meant to all of us, and with the help of video pro Churchill Morgan, created an amazing video that brought tears and laughter to everyone:

 << link to video >>

The news of Nikki’s passing early in 2013 came as a surprise and was a difficult moment for all that knew her. It was hard to grasp that one of our own, someone so full of life and so young, was suddenly gone. The more we learned about Nikki through her family, the more we liked her, and the more we missed her. She had made an indelible mark on our hearts. We needed to do something to honor her memory and we set about it doing just that in three ways:

  1. An annual “Nicole Award” to be given to the World 50 associate who most exhibited the  character and values that made Nikki so very special.
  2. A donation to the place that had tried so hard to save Nikki’s life: Emory’s Winship Cancer Center.
  3. Participating as a company in the Winship 5K Run/Walk.

Participating in the 5K seemed more than anything to bring things full circle. Once again, Team Nicole jumped into action, with T-shirts and banners and race day preparations.


Nothing felt more right than inviting Nikki’s family to join us and we were honored to have 14 members of her family with us. I cannot express enough the courage they showed in returning to the Emory campus, the last place they had been with their Nikki.

Rouis Family

It was an emotional day and a reminder that who we spend our time with often matters more than what we spend our time doing. We were fortunate to have had Nikki in our lives, however unfairly short that time turned out to be. When I looked around World 50’s race day tent, I saw associates who had brought their parents, brothers, sisters, friends and kids. People whom I had never met told me how honored they were to take part in our “run for Nikki.” It seems that her warmth and grace were still inspiring people she had never met.


Nikki’s father completed the 5K with the very towel that Nikki had run the Kaiser 5K with just a year before. He’s a brave man who misses his daughter tremendously. I think of my own young daughter and can hardly imagine what he has gone through. But all around him were friends and family and it was clear that Nikki, even in her absence, was binding them together still. She was binding us all together—reminding us that the friends and loved ones around us are what matter most. It would seem that “running for Nikki” was more than just running in her memory, it was running for what a wonderful, smart and generous person can mean within our hearts.

I Run For Nikki

I am not a big fan of running. In fact, I often find it unpleasant and prefer the kind of suffering encountered on bicycle to that on foot any day. But I really wanted to put in a good 5K time in Nikki’s honor, which meant training. During morning and lunchtime runs—alone or with colleagues with similar motivation—I found a surprising appreciation for it. It might be cold, the roads might be hilly, or something might be sore—the kind of things that make running uncomfortable—but I found a serene lucidness knowing what I was training for and knowing that “I Run for Nikki.” On race day, with a sore knee, I ran the fastest 5K of my life with no pain at all. Looking around at all the other runners before the start, with the numerous “I Run For _____” race numbers completed with names of their loved ones, I am confident I was not alone in that experience.

Nikki Running 2

Nikki, we miss you. But we won’t forget. And there’s more to this story. Stay tuned.