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For What It's Worth

Every father has a tremendous impact our their child’s life. I had the privilege of working with my father side by side for 20 years. He had a endless supply of missives that shares his wisdom on a variety of topics.

1.   “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.”

2.   “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”

3.   “We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.”

4.   “Days are expensive. When you spend a day you have one less day to spend. So make sure you spend each one wisely.”

5.   “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”

6.   “If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.”

7.   “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

8.   “Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.”

9.   “Don’t join an easy crowd; you won’t grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform are high.”

10. “Learn how to be happy with what you have while you pursue all that you want.”

My good friend Jim Koetting shared the above with me.  Thank you Jim.

Free advice is properly priced – take what you like – leave what you don’t.

I have the privilege of being around some really amazing people. I learn from them every day. These little nuggets may be about leadership, business, industry, economics and family. I will use this blog to share these nuggets and link to them when possible on what I have found meaningful. I have also collected a great deal of these nuggets over the years and will dig into the archives from time to time. I will try to avoid standing on my soap box, but please forgive me if I have a weak moment.

I open the Ardent blog to others. I strongly urge you to submit your own blogs for publication and comment on those posted.

  1. “Don’t confuse the urgent with the important.”
  2. “The ability to adjust is a sign of leadership.”  – William H. Danforth, Founder of Ralston Purina
  3. “People base decisions upon what they think rather than what they know.”
  4. “Don’t forget to do the homework.”
  5. “Who says?”
  6. “Who is “they”?”
  7. “Prove it.”
  8. “An answer is not necessarily the same as the correct answer.”
  9.  “When a client doesn’t pay, wait for a choke point and then choke.”
  10.  “Stay focused.”
  11.  “You must take risks to make money.”
  12. “Information is your friend.  Knowledge is your partner.”
  13. “Don’t trade one set of problems for another set of problems.”
  14. “Never assume anything without remembering you’re probably wrong.”
  15. “Facts don’t lie.”
  16. “When you fix a mechanical problem, it usually stays fixed. When you fix a people problem it seldom stays fixed.
  17. “What are you going to do about it?”  – James E. Counsilman, PhD
  18. “You can delegate authority, but not responsibility.” – US Armed Forces

In 2008, Don Burns retired as the CEO from California Spa and Pool Industry Education Council.  Joe and Don had served on the NSPF Board of Directors together for over 15 years.  Joe sent the following note to Don on his retirement.

Hi Don,

I recently saw on CNN where you are retiring ….or was it the History Channel… and I thought you might benefit from some of my observations, having gone through the experience myself, regarding what to expect during the transition. What I noticed most was the phone stopped ringing, no one at my office seemed to need my advice (Although I now really take pleasure in calling my voice mail at the office and there are no messages.) Another benefit is having the first decision of the day being “whether to roll over and go back to sleep.” But getting to that outlook can be challenging due to the lifetime of being essential to others, you know, being depended upon.

I’ve talked to other recent retirees and its pretty much the same. Superman says he was really depressed for a long time after he retired from Dell Comics. He noticed a definite drop off of damsels falling from tall buildings, and a slowdown in airliners losing power at 30,000 feet. Like all of us, he began to notice technology passing him by. He says half the bullets now have a speed faster than his. These new skyscrapers, in the emerging nations, are just too tall to leap over and he doesn’t go near high speed trains in Japan and Europe because he embarrasses himself. But in the end, Superman made the transition, started wearing knee high shorts and moved to Sun City where he rides an adult tricycle up and down the streets. On the other hand, some can’t seem to let go.

There are a lot of people who have never had to cope with adjusting to retirement, i.e. Jesse James, JFK, Amelia Earhart, John Dillinger, Martin Luther King, Billy the Kid, Marilyn Monroe, etc. I think you get the idea. There are a lot lessor options than making it across the finish line and receiving the gold watch.

As Roy Rogers used to sing “Happy Trails to You.” Don.

Best personal regards,


We have all grown up with the maxim “necessity is the mother of invention.”  And yet, this logic is sometimes thwarted by the mindset “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” or more significantly “If it works, don’t change it” even though we know there must be a better way. We, like others, may be guilty of ignoring a need because we can’t afford the time to solve the problem and besides we have always gotten by doing it the old way.

One of the great mysteries of history is why prehistoric men rode horses for several thousand Years before anyone invented stirrups. Remarkably, the Romans, who constructed the Aqueducts across Italy and southern France, the Coliseum which held over one hundred thousand spectators and featured a roof awning which moved with the sun and was fully retractable, the Pantheon dome, which was not equaled in diameter for 1400 years, had developed cavalry for its Legions but without stirrups. Presumably because no one had ever seen stirrups or thought through the advantage such an invention would create.

Military historians consider the stirrup the last of the three great leaps in technology that changed the course of history by revolutionizing the traditional way of waging war. The first was the invention of the chariot, the second was the mounted warrior and the third was the stirrup. The stirrup permitted the rider to stabilize himself in the saddle and shoot his arrow, attack with his lance, and most importantly, turn his mount sharply without falling off due to centrifugal force and increasing his ability to attack more adversaries in greater force. In recognized papers, knowledgeable historians state that the armored knights of the Middle Ages could not have existed without stirrups because they would not have been able to control their center of gravity while charging on horseback. These are the same knights who rode their mounts from Western Europe to Jerusalem during the Crusades.

An interesting footnote is the evidence in prehistoric China, which reports that before a foot stirrup was developed, a toe stirrup for the big toe was used for stability of the rider. It required several hundred years before the crude device evolved into the equipment that was the for-runner of what appeared 1600 years later inWestern Europe.

It was not until the 13th century that Genghis Khan developed a horse cavalry using saddles with stirrups to stabilize his ferocious warriors, whose reputation created panic in the inhabitants of towns and villages hundreds of miles in their advance.

Why did it take thousands of years for people with domesticated horses, on two continents, to perceive the benefit of being much more secure in a saddle?  Using current vernacular, it seems that no one took the time “to think outside of the box.”

When working with a group be careful of the “I think” or the “I don’t think” syndrome.  The majority of people make decisions based upon assumptions which are backed up with presumptions and not based upon facts.

 “I don’t think I will go to jail.” – John Gotti

“I don’t think the Chinese reds will cross the Yalu River.” – General Douglas McArthur

“I don’t think I will be convicted.” – Martha Stewart

“(I think) this airplane will revolutionize air travel.” – The investors in the Concord.

“(I think) the levees will hold.” – The Mayor of New Orleans

“(I think) TWA will fly forever” – Howard Hughes

“I don’t think the Americans made a second bomb.” – The mayor of Nagasaki.

“Jimmy, believe me, you’ll never go to jail.” – Attorney Morris Shaenker while waiting for the verdict in Hoffa’s jury tampering trial.

“(I think) we will overthrow Saddam Hussein in three weeks, set up a secular democracy and have the troops home by the end of the year.” Dick Chaney 

“(I think) this ship is unsinkable” – The design engineer of the Titanic

“I don’t think it is my fault” – Ken Lay of ENRON

“We’ll reach India in two or three weeks” – Christopher Columbus

Editors Note:  All of us have competitors in our business.  Do we learn from them?  This post is a memo that was sent to the team after a recent awards publication.  Are you and your team learning at every opportunity?

Presumably everyone has picked up a copy of the Aquatics International Dream Facility in which our 2006-concept design was featured, along with that of our competitors.  If you have studied all the designs and read all of the articles, you are an exception to human nature. The inclination is to read only the submittal of one’s own firm and possibly one or two others. I believe this transcends all of the entry firms and their respective staffs, and yet such behavior is contrary to the goals and objectives of Counsilman – Hunsaker.

General George S. Patton was successful against the clever and shrewd Irwin Rommel, AKA “the Desert Fox,” Germany’s great Panzer general in North Africa. When asked how he did it, Patton said; “I read his book” as well as those of Guderian and Von Manstein, other great German generals.

Between the articles submitted by the various design firms in the 2005 issue and the 2006 issues of AI, such “information” could easily cost between twenty and thirty thousand dollars, and yet, we tend to ignore the opinions and view points of other professionals for which our potential clients pay good money.  Shouldn’t we be curious? Otherwise, we churn to the same solution, over and over.

I recently sat down with the new issue and realizing that previously I had not bothered to completely read all of the other entries, I made myself do just that.  I found a number of new ideas, concepts and market niches that I had not thought about or were on the periphery of my awareness. I also identified what our competition may be saying when appearing before the same interview committees.

Taking time away from the press of current work, to gain the knowledge of others, is an example of the struggle between “the urgent and the important.”  If we are to consider ourselves professionals, and responsible for providing our clients with the best knowledge and recommendations, it’s logical that we should take every opportunity to know what others in our field are thinking. Please take time to read and remember the ideas of other successful people in aquatic design, who may have a different take on trends, niche markets, equipment design, the probable interest of future markets and the categorization of attractions, vis a vis, different geographical areas in the United States and beyond.

Years ago, Doc called me from the ASCA Conference, where he had just looked at a unique bulkhead which had a built-in touch pad.  I knew the designer/fabricator and told Doc he was not to be taken seriously because most people in the industry considered him a flake. Doc cautioned me to not be judgmental about the man’s ideas.  Even though he is not well regarded, we should learn as much about his product as possible because it may be valuable information in the future.

If you were on a flight and sitting next to any of the authors in these two editions, you would probably talk shop.  Why not educate yourself now.  It’s easy and it’s free.  Only a few people know how to live by their wits.

Assuming that each of you is familiar with the Rock and Roll legend Chuck Berry, I’ll relate a story about the power of word pictures.  In 1987, a documentary movie, recently on HBO, was filmed about Chuck Berry.  It was his 60th birthday celebration and was performed at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis.  His sixty years did not show as he played, sang and did his trademark “duck walk”.  For the event, his sidemen included Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen, plus singers Linda Ronstadt, Little Richard and others.

The performances were interspersed with interviews with some of the performers, plus Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis.  Bruce Springsteen was asked, “What made Chuck Berry exceptional and often called the father of Rock and Roll?”  Springsteen described how he was incomparable as a lyricist, a poet with music.  Springsteen related how Chuck Berry wrote and cut a record called Nadine.  A segment of the lyrics included something like: “Nadine, Nadine, you know you’ll come back, straight to my coffee-colored Cadillac.”  Springsteen said, “I’ve never seen a coffee-colored Cadillac, but I sure know what it looks like.”

I believe this is another example of the mind creating images that oftentimes reality cannot match.

During the run up to the Final Four several weeks ago, one of the TV networks did a segment on Pat Summit, the coach of the woman’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee. She has the most wins among the coaches in woman’s basketball and her team finally lost in the semi-finals of the Division 1 NCAA championships. She has been called the mother of woman’s basketball having won 800 games with the Lady Vols. Her techniques and coaching have been legendary and her athletes have been exceptional students on and off the court with many earning top scholastic marks.

In the mid-90’s, in an effort to push her woman players to a higher level, she recruited a men’s basketball team to scrimmage with the woman’s varsity. These were not members of the varsity men’s team but rather the top Intramural team on campus. The purpose was to have her women play one on one against opponents who were bigger, stronger and weighed more than women. The results were quite positive and today with few exceptions, every contender in the Division 1 woman’s competition trains with men.

The moral of the story is “sometimes genius is a few steps from the obvious.”

Last Saturday I had the privilege of visiting a friend who operates a shop that repairs and restores old slot machines. In twenty minutes, he showed me through his inventory of these vintage gambling devices which were interesting to look at as well as hearing their stories.

The oldest slot machine in his collection was manufactured in 1912 by the Mills Company. It is cast iron with the price of 5 cents in the casting next to the slot which shows little concern for inflation. The most interesting thing about this machine as well as others of that era is that there are vertical windows of approximately 1 x 8 inches in the front which are called mint windows. When the coin was dropped in the slot and the handle pulled, a mint fell into the tray. And on occasion, multiple coins would also drop into the tray. Because each pull of the handle yielded a mint, it was considered a candy machine and thereby avoided the definition of a gambling device which was outlawed during that time.

During the first half of the 20th century, the Mills Company was the ‘General Motors’ of slot machines with 80-90% of the market. All other manufacturers made up the balance. Each of these sought ways to make their product stand out in their effort to stay viable. One company was Watling, which made eye-catching ornate machines. Some had cast aluminum faces and were sought out by many with one or two machines in their place of business. During World War II, another company changed its design by using wood face and sides to offset the scarcity of metal due to the war effort.

In the 1950’s a federal law against transporting slot machines across state lines pushed the industry into crisis, which demanded adjustments to survive. Watling diversified into making ladders, from short stepladders to extension ladders. Mills moved their operations to Nevada believing that their best chance was in the state that had the greatest potential for slot-machine usage. At that time a small company introduced electro-mechanical slots with flashing lights etc. Mills did not adapt to this new technology quickly enough and the demand shifted to the slots made by the upstart, Bally. Mills later disappeared from the market.


The ability to adjust requires leadership.