I find there are an infinite number of possibilities in our individual and collective lives.  Some are tangible—events, occurrences, projects, acquisition of material things.  Some are intangible—attitudes, ideas, plans, philosophies.  There are three potential outcomes for each possibility—positive, negative, and nothing.

We each have a list of tangible and intangible items that we care about and can influence.  For me, the top priority is the well-being of and my relationships with my family and friend.  My list also includes my job, selected community and social issues, civility, and writing my blog among others. My possessions and my tennis game might be on the list except they are not important enough to me to muddy the water of my priorities.  I will deal with those as I have time, but more important issues that are worthy of listing come first.

I also care about some other things—the Cincinnati Bengals, the Indiana Hoosiers, Woody Allen movies, the incompetence of our government, the decaying state of the world, and a list too long to bore you with.  But those are matters that I cannot influence beyond attending, voting, and advocating.  I believe time spent attempting to influence their outcomes is pretty much time wasted.

If you take the time to think about it, you will come up with your own lists.  We will probably have some items in common and some of an entirely different nature from one another.

I really buy into the serenity prayer used by all the compulsive anonymous groups.  “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

From my first list, I identify my short- and long-term priorities.  Which few are urgent or for which my passion is at a peak?  I should address those today and this month.  Which ones are not urgent but ones I need to keep my eye on and bring them to my short-term list at some point in the future?

Now I have a relatively short list of subjects that have these characteristics:

  • They can be tangible or intangible.
  • They are urgent and/or particularly important to me now.
  • I can see a way that the energy and thinking I invest in a given item can influence the outcome.

There are virtually no subjects of the importance required to be on the list that I can accomplish on my own.  Almost all need the participation of other people or organizations.  I may contribute by leading, following, or advising, but virtually never will I be acting alone.  There are some accomplishments of which I am most proud in my life.  The biggest ones are as follows.

  • Helping to guide my children to grow to be happy, productive, self-supporting citizens possessing the highest moral and ethical values each with great families of their own
  • My love-filled marriage of fifty years
  • Leading turnarounds of manufacturing and human service organizations and my own life
  • Directing the recovery from community crises including a $5,000,000 fire and a hundred-year flood
  • Community leadership in the areas of early child development including child care and dealing with domestic violence
  • Managing the acquisition and creation of a co-location of approximately fifty human service agencies and programs on one campus to enable clients with multiple needs to access all of the services they require on a single campus.

These achievements and others are detailed in other blogs at this site and in my book Machete Moments: A Turnaround Manager–Burned Out at 54 and Turned On for the Next Eighteen Years.  (Available at and

Not one of these projects could have been completed successfully without significant participation by others.  The personal ones required the direct involvement of a relative few.  For the ones related to my career, large numbers of colleagues, sometimes hundreds, were necessary to complete the mission.

Thirty years ago, I gave a talk at the local Rotary Club where I listed the priorities for my life: family, job, community, friends.  Those four general interests drive my life.  Since 1984, I have not changed my mind; the list is still intact.  If I go to a ball game, it is always with family and/or friends.  If I write, it’s to crystalize my thinking in one of these areas or to share my thoughts with others in the hope of enlightening them.  If I go to a movie, it is always with my wife and/or grandchildren and is usually followed by dinner at a restaurant where we can bond.

Let me get to the title of the piece.  When I have an opportunity to influence the progress or the outcome of one of my priorities, I nudge.  As I explained above, I can’t succeed without the involvement of others.  Remember my observation in the first paragraph.  The potential outcomes of any action or non-action are positive, negative, and nothing.  The nudge gets the ball rolling in a positive direction.  The nudge might consist of engaging some like-minded partners, shining a light on a problem, or describing the goal line.  If the nudge is executed properly, the work will gain momentum.  From there, the detailed planning including input from associates*, individual assignments, and hard work begin.  If you have a committed team, you have an excellent chance for success.

With nudging, your potential for success is much better than with heavy-handed dictating.  Without the nudge, you risk that the outcome will be negative if someone else nudges, or nothing if there is no nudge al all.

*  Please see my article The Smartest Thing We Can Do as Leaders is to Realize We Don’t Know More than Our People…han-our-people/








I get lessons in life from some unusual places.  Throughout my career, I have observed the wisdom of the 1955 film, The Seven-Year Itch which starred Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell.  The premise was that Ewell’s character, after seven years of a rather routine marriage, was tempted to stray to Marilyn’s character when his wife took the kids to visit her mother for the summer.  This left him in the city with Marilyn living in the next apartment.  Even the most faithful of husbands might have had difficulty in resisting the charms of Ms. Monroe, but don’t tell wife I said that.  The lesson I took from the movie was that anything can become humdrum after seven years and that it would not be unusual to feel the need for a major change.  Later, I amended my theory to include a clause that the change can be either a total divorce from your current situation or a radical restructuring of your existing life.  This theory fits me to a tee.

It’s funny.  I have never experienced the problem in my marriage, which has just completed its forty-eighth very happy year.  However, I have seen the itch very clearly in other parts of my life, especially in my career.  Of course, seven years on the nose is not magic, but it’s a good average of the amount of time it takes until some extreme action is needed.  There comes a point when evolutionary change isn’t enough.

In my case, I spent six years in the sixties drifting through four different jobs before realizing I needed to settle down and find something for the long haul.  Once at Kane, I was in the accounting department for seven years before getting myself transferred to manufacturing operations.  I was plant manager for eight years, but most of the final year I was committed to leaving and was looking for a place to land.

My next job lasted seven years almost to the day.  The first three were as plant manager leading the startup and establishing a culture of excellence at the new Indiana plant.  In the final four, I was COO driving the turnaround of both the Massachusetts plant and the other functions there.

Although I was at United Way for seventeen years, I was presented with periodic opportunities that enabled me reinvent myself.  I started as president in 1995.  In 2001, we received the donation of the campus and buildings that became the United Way Center and, eventually, the Doug Otto Center, a co-location of about fifty human service agencies and programs at one site.

In 2008, our county was hit by a destructive 500-year flood for which I took on the task as director of the long term recovery while continuing my United Way duties.  I had managed to property as one of my United Way duties, but when I retired as president in 2012, we spun off the management of the buildings as a separate job and I stayed to do that job on a part time basis.

It’s been a fulfilling and gratifying career that has been broken into unofficial but clearly visible seven year segments.  Travel in your mind back through your own career.  Do you find a similar pattern?