Feed the Eagles, Starve the Turkeys

A long, long time ago, a boss of mine at Apple, John Osborne, taught me 2 things that I swear have guided hundreds of decisions since. One was about when to fire someone and when to coach and such. And the other was on how to stop doing more (cause there will always be more) but on doing well. Like a long shadow on my life, his advice has been crucial.  So, when LinkedIN asked a few of us to share the “best advice I’ve ever received”, I wrote about one of them: “Feed the Eagles, Starve the Turkeys”. The entire post can be found here, but let me excerpt the key part:

Feed the Eagles. There are only a few things that matter. Know what they are. And place your energy into them. They aren’t always right in front of you so you need to look up and out more. Starve the Turkeys – lots of things are right in front of you … pecking around, making noise, and demanding attention. Because they are right in front of you, it’s easy to pay attention to them most and first. Ignore them. They will actually do fine without you.

(I write about how this has affected the small — as in email — and big — as in family as a priority as examples…)

Then a friend that I’ve met through Twitter (and we’ve since been fortunate to meet IRL) someone I learn from, wrote something I think is worth sharing… (edited only slightly)Feed the Eagles
Your “feed the eagles, starve the turkeys” article reminded me of an experience from my past, and the lessons I took from it, which somehow strangely apply here.
So – years ago, in my early twenties, I was on a project with more senior guy. He dropped me off at a potential real estate development site, about 25 acres of open land, in a semi-rural exurb. I had a notebook, a pen, a digital camera, and a cell phone (in the days when cell phones were bricks that didn’t even do email, just texts & phone calls). My assignment: do a full site-walk, looking for and cataloging anything that might constitute evidence of wetlands, perennial and intermittent streams, vernal pools, turtle / salamander habitat, or any sort of exotic or possibly endangered wildlife, anything that might pose a significant problem to the development of this parcel.
So I start my walk.
About an hour in, I’m waaaaay on the back end of this site, that had a mix of open grass, fallow farm plots, forest, shrubs, and high-growing weeds and tall brush. It’s hot, it’s dry, I’m sweating, there ain’t no salamanders or turtles or anything of interest. This is the boringest day in long time, and I’m not even half done. I stop on an open stretch of grass, about 30 feet wide, in between some really high brush / weeds on one side (it looked like what had once been either a corn patch, or oddly enough, a surreptitious reefer plot) and a long, deep thicket of dense undergrowth on the other. I bust into my water bottle and light up a smoke.
Then I hear this weird noise, coming from the undergrowth.
I’ve no idea what the hell it is, although I’m reasonably sure it’s some kind of woodland creature. It’s not a harsh growl or predatory sound, so I’m not worried I’m going to be carried off by coyotes or anything, so I don’t think much of it. I hear the sound again. I’m looking around, I don’t see anything. Then, I hear this utter cacophony erupt from the undergrowth – it sounded like the war cry of some kind of tribe of savages – I and I jump around to see the source. The undergrowth is shaking and twitching and then, from the thicket burst out this cavalry phalanx of charging, screaming, flapping wild turkeys. At least a dozen, probably more. And, in the words of the poet, “they were coming right at me.” Fast. And angry.
Time dilated.
My jaw dropped.
What the heck to do now?
What did I know about wild turkeys? I ran through my internal knowledge base: I knew that the 80 proof kind, with a couple ice cubes, was the beginning of a good Friday night (not germane! next fact!). I knew they traveled in groups (borne out by the evidence! not helpful! next fact!) Also, I knew that wild turkeys were ferocious in their own way, and their main form of attack was to jump about 4 or 5 feet in the air, flap their wings furiously in a semblance of flight to prolong their jump, and then claw the living daylights out of whatever happened to be in their path with these rather sizable, razor sharp claws that they have attached to them (useless trivia, suddenly useful!).Was this how it was going to end? Clawed to death by wild turkeys in some rural Connecticut nowheresville planned retail development? One moment alive and vibrant, the next, a lifeless bleeding pile of shredded former consultant?

Exactly unlike any movie hero ever, I dropped to the ground, covered my head, went fetal, and made peace with my god. In seconds, thankfully, the raging turkey torrent passed me by, gobbling and clucking and flapping and squawking and then…they were gone. Into the high weeds. Silence. No evidence that it ever happened.

It was a Hunter S. Thompson moment – lying on the ground, wet from spilled water bottle, half a cigarette in my mouth, saying…jesus, did that *really* just happen?!
Needless to say, the rest of that day (week, and month) were uneventful by comparison, and not worthy of recounting. But I did spend a lot of time thinking about the ramifications of this experience, and what it might teach me about the universe and my place in it.
Some key lessons I drew from this affair, which I think actually apply nicely to the turkeys in your context:
  1. The turkeys will come out of nowhere, when you least expect them
  2. Turkeys travel in large packs, and when in the pack, they are angry, and vicious, and know no fear or remorse
  3. The turkeys tend to follow a very big turkey – the largest, usually, probably also the meanest
  4. One person alone is no match for a pack of turkeys in full-on aggro-mode
  5. Being in between a pack of aggro wild turkeys and where they want to go is not a good place to be
  6. One would be wise to learn to detect “turkey-sign” and avoid areas where you see it – the best defense is to not be where they are
  7. Do not meddle in the affairs of turkeys
  8. When caught in a turkey-charge, the best thing to do may very well be to put your head down and hope the turkeys pass you by
  9. Turkeys will do what they will do. You will not stop them from being turkeys or convince them of anything they don’t want to be convinced of
  10. Watching for eagles is important, but it’s always a good idea to keep a weather-eye on the underbrush, too.

That’s from Seth Cargiuolo, a digital strategist, and clearly someone whose faced his set of turkeys in his life. (I hope it made you laugh, as it did me.)

 And my reason for writing all this today:You probably have lots of people in your life, email you get, and things to do… you could easily ignore the “small” as you focus on the “big”. I wrote the Turkeys/Eagles post clearly saying somethings are really strategic and you have to be willing to prioritize or you’d drive yourself crazy… All that is true.

And, yet, the truth is actually more balanced. Sometimes, a little distraction is also needed. A little levity, and a moment of just sharing stories. Sometimes people ask why I do social stuff, like being active on mediums like Twitter, LinkedIn or G+, and I find the reason is really simple: it helps me connect with people. Connection. Relationships. Trust. These are the things that matter. And ultimately, isn’t that what this little rodeo is all about anyways?

Happy Friday!

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