Lego, Meet Atari

Posted by Richard Moran.

It was a big headline: Lego Will Cut 1,400 Jobs as Profit Dips, Despite Big-Screen Heroics. What? I thought Lego was one of the hottest companies around?

The most recent earnings report revealed the company is facing an increasingly competitive landscape because more children are using mobile devices for entertainment, even very small children. Lego, take note, there could be a parable in the form of Centipede and Space Invaders.

In the early 1980’s Atari employed thousands of people, including me. The young Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were there too. (Steve and Woz soon left to pursue other opportunities.) It was the dawn of civilization as we now know it.  It was exciting.  We ruled the world. The slogan for the Company was “The Future Is Here”. People who were born long after Atari was at its pinnacle think it’s a cool company and wish they had the opportunity to work there. But where is Atari today?

The history of the Company is well documented. Like an asteroid, it burned brightly and then crashed and burned. What was once dominant is now a footnote in the history of Silicon Valley. Atari products are now retro and the currency of eBay.

What happened? Lessons for other organizations to learn are clear, including: competitors will surround any “disruptive” company; and, basic business principles still matter. Principles like developing a clear plan, building an efficient organization chart and putting controls in place were all missing at Atari. I saw the void at the time although, like pretty much everyone else, I never spoke up.

The lessons for individuals are just as important. Lego people (real ones) should take note. But anyone at any “hot” company should pay attention. Nothing lasts, so think of the lessons in the form of some of those classic games.

  • Brands are sensitive. At one time Atari was one of the top brands in the world rivaling Pepsi and Coke and it disappeared. Like Atari, your personal brand can change quickly through a few missteps. Get drunk at the holiday party?  Watch your brand. Miss the deadline? You hurt your brand. You get the idea.
  • Momentum matters. Atari was the hottest company in the world. It had momentum but after a series of bad results, the momentum switched into the negative. Even if you feel like you are on a roll, your career momentum can go negative too. Know which way you momentum is going and make sure it’s on the positive side. Sometimes the game just goes your way, sometimes it is over before it starts.
  • Past success is in the past. Don’t dwell on what you used to do or be. The video game hits Atari had didn’t matter after a short while and the same is true for you. What you used to be or used to do is not as important as what you can do now. Don’t think you are invincible based on who you used to be.
  • Relationships matter. Even though Atari as a business went into the ditch what survived were the relationships. My Centipede and Donkey Kong games are long gone but many of the people that I met there all those years ago are still friends and colleagues. Regardless of the situation in any organization, relationships matter.

Admit it, your favorite video games are still Space Invaders or Ms. Pac Man.  Admit it, you still have the first castle you created with Legos. Admit it, Atari still matters because there are so many lessons to be learned from that pioneer of technology.

The world today is loaded with hot companies, including Lego. All of them are fragile and all of them offer personal lessons that apply to your career. Keep playing with those Legos but every once in a while break out Missile Command or Yars’ Revenge for reminders.

Mulligans (Do-Overs) Not Allowed

Posted by Richard Moran.

For those who aren’t golfers, a mulligan is a do-over. In golf, if your first shot was botched, just drop another ball and the first one doesn’t count. The hope is that the second shot will be better and the first one, well, will be forgotten. The pros don’t get any mulligans, but for weekend duffers, it is a part of the game as long as it’s not overdone. And when it comes to golf, I appreciate mulligans.

At work though, mulligans are a different story. Many are the times we wish that a do-over was a part of how we work, but it’s rare that you get a mulligan . The first shot always counts.

  • Miss a deadline? No mulligan.
  • Do something crazy like send a rant to the boss/company? No mulligan.
  • Make an inappropriate comment in a meeting? No mulligan.
  • Irritate a customer? No mulligan.
  • Blow a presentation in front of the boss? No mulligan.
  • Get caught on video doing something you don’t want to share? No mulligan

The list of no mulligans at work is infinite. Lots of people expect do-overs at work but that is usually not the case. Even if a do-over is granted, people remember that first try and may or may not forgive it. For leaders especially, a do-over is never allowed. I wish they knew that the workplace is not a golf course and behaviors and decisions, once out there, can’t be taken back. Leaders are not perfect and mistakes will be made and adjustments need to follow but mulligans are a little different than correcting a mistake.

If we screw up and want to correct a mistake, the correction usually involves an admission of the problem and a plan to move forward. Some humility is involved. A mulligan is a belief that the first one didn’t count and others will tacitly grant approval. That doesn’t happen at work.

Staying out of the danger zone that requires a mulligan is not that difficult. A few quick reminders can help:

  • Always double-check your work. Sure, check for typos and spelling but that’s not enough. Is your work something you are proud of? Does it solve a problem? What grade would you give it? If it’s not an A, do it again.
  • Never send emails or texts when angry or upset. Especially don’t hit any send buttons when you are drunk.
  • Develop positive relationships with your colleagues. An occasional mulligan might be granted if people like you. Be thoughtful in dealing with you colleagues.
  • Recognize that little things count and don’t expect daily mulligans as in if you are always late for meetings.
  • Do what you say you will do and do it well. Mulligans may never be needed.

In golf, some players sneak mulligans although other players almost always know – sneaking mulligans is called cheating. That shouldn’t happen at work but when it does, terminations might ensue.

Sometimes we might have an accommodating boss who understands the need for coaching and improving. He or she might suggest the report needs more work or the presentation is not complete or that analysis needs to be redone. That’s not a mulligan, that’s a good boss.

Mulligans are a part of golf; just don’t expect any at work.

Richard is the author of the new book The Thing About Work: Showing Up and Other Important Matters [A Worker’s Manual]. You can follow his writing on TwitterFacebook, or at his website at

Richard is a noted San Francisco based business leader, workplace pundit, bestselling author and venture capitalist.

An Ode to Cafeteria Workers and the Night Custodians

Posted by Richard Moran.

Business related websites are full of advice and notifications and admonitions about how to be successful and what to do in this disruptive world. To my eye, there is not much content that explores the concept of giving thanks or how to treat others.  Business site topics range from artificial intelligence to how to manage a meeting; from block chain implications to tips on resumes. An entire body of work exists that details all the things not to do, as in, “5 Ways to Kill a Good Interview!!!” All good and helpful, and I am proud to be an influencer who provides such content.  We know from the advice sites how to be a team player and that our colleagues are critical in helping us be more successful, or not.

But wait; there is a cadre of people and actions that are rarely discussed.  In a de facto way, they are dismissed in all the advice but they can make or break our day. In the work world, they are often underappreciated.

People who show up, do their jobs, and are a part of our lives constantly surround us, and yet we often don’t see them. We interact with them every day and they make life just a little bit better for us. We might nod to them while we are talking on the phone. We might glance up at them while we are hitting the REPLY button. These are the people who never really pop up as an unsung hero. The unsung hero spots are often reserved for teachers and first responders who certainly deserve it. But there are other people who help us or make our day and we often take them for granted. They too, are unsung heroes but are not ones that we typically thank for being a part of our workplace lives.

They are all around us. They are in the parking lots taking your keys. They are in your office fixing your lights. They push the elevator buttons for us. They provide security. They may or may not be on social media but their attention is not on LinkedIn pieces on how to better network. When the debate about raising the minimum wage rages, these are the people who will be see a bump in pay – or not. These are the people who are working incredibly hard and can make our day by showing the slight gesture of a kindness.

So as the school year begins, there is a particular group that I would like to call out for our attention – the cafeteria workers. You know who I am talking about. Like the cable guy, the cafeteria ladies (and men) bear a designation that conjures up a unique image. We love them because they know our names, they give us food, and they almost always have a smile. They are efficient and they enjoy and are proud of their work. They love their work and can bring a little sunshine into a day with an oatmeal raisin cookie. Although cafeteria workers are a metaphor for underappreciated workers, they are flag bearers for that group of people who make our day.

At a time when debates are raging about critical topics at work, I hope we can all take a moment out of our day to say thank you. So, thank you cafeteria workers and night custodians and all those who work hard to make everyone’s work just a little better. You all should have more recognition.