18 lessons for 18 years


Nov 12, 2015 • Eric Morgenstern • Blog


Since founding Morningstar Communications on October 1, 1997, I have learned a lot. Usually the hard way.

People often say, “If I only knew then what I know now…” In the spirit of giving back to so many who have helped me along the way, I now return the favor by sharing 18 lessons I have learned.

1. Learn something new. Every. Single. Day. — The best way to learn is from someone else’s mistakes. Consume news from various media and sources. Read business books (Dan Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, and Thomas Friedman are three of my favorites).

2. Know what never changes, what must change and evolve, and have the wisdom to know the difference. — Values don’t change; products and services always evolve. Experiment regularly on the fringes of your core competencies.

3. When there’s a knock on the door, is it an interruption or an opportunity? — This is often the hardest question to answer. Upon reflection, it's usually easy to see what was the right choice, but all of us must make decisions in real time. Hone your triage skills, and pursue opportunities with passion and purpose.

4. Hire excellent people. Empower them. Be there when they need help. Otherwise, stay out of the way and sing their praises. — This five-part philosophy has shaped both the acquisition and retention of some of the smartest marketing and communications professionals. We have pride and support for our alums, and they continue to advocate for us.

5. Surround yourself with people smarter than you.Our team is filled with rock stars. I brag about them often. In addition, back in 2000, we formed the Morningstar Communications Advisory Board. These five extremely smart people (who don’t have a vested interest) provide perspective, clarity, and strategic and objective counsel on our big issues. We’re so much smarter with Roger Henry, Steve Liggett, David Morgenstern, Alana Muller and Scott Slabotsky sharing smart thoughts at our twice yearly board meetings.

6. None of us is smarter than all of us. — No matter how smart anyone is, all of us are smarter (and often synergistic) together. We’ve learned that our best value is when we serve as an extension of our client teams, not as a vendor.

7. When walking on the edge of the ethical ocean, don’t let your knees get wet. — The line between right and wrong is more like a shoreline than a straight line. Was Darth Vader a good guy or a bad guy? Was that a hug or harassment? Very few decisions in business are simply black or white, and each one must be viewed from the recipient’s point of view. If you’re in water up to your neck, you’re in too deep.

8. Go through life with bifocal vision: Keep your eye on the horizon, but watch each step. — Almost everything you do should roll up to achieve your overarching goals. But, pay attention to every step along the way.

9. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine. — Most people resist change, even if it’s for the better. Embrace it as time marches forward, but don’t change for change’s sake.

10. Write short. Every time. — Don’t get me started on how incredibly lazy people are today, particularly when it comes to reading. Recent research found people scan and skim, and barely ever dive deep into content. Even Mark Twain said, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.” Less is more. Keep it brief. Then edit some more.

11. Reward long-term excellence; promote from within. — Earlier this year, Sheri Johnson became president after 15 years helping to lead our team. Today, she leads all of our client teams. Sheri started as an account supervisor and worked her way up. Then, recognition followed. Importantly, this tells everyone that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence, and you don’t have to job-hop to grow.

12. Know when to lead; know when to listen. — Be an advisor, and a team player. Have confidence and conviction for your opinion, but at some point, all must agree on a single course of action.

13. This too shall pass. — When things are going great, don’t get cocky; bad news is often just around the bend. And when things are going poorly, don’t despair; good news is often just around the bend as well. There tends to be a yin yang in the business universe that keeps things balanced.

14. Take your work seriously, not yourself. — “We crack ourselves up” is Sheri’s favorite mantra at work. We have a “work hard / play hard” approach, and never hesitate to make fun of ourselves. Or just have a good time.

15. Give people the benefit of the doubt, even if you DON’T think they deserve it. — This approach has saved my relationships numerous times. Say, “Help me understand why ...?” Learn, and then make deposits to the relationship equity well every time you can.

16. Identify your “To-don’t-do” list regularly. — We all do many things we simply don’t need to do anymore. Duties evolve. Stop doing the things that are no longer effective or important.

17. The only thing you ever truly own is your reputation and your relationships. — This is actually my quote, and helps me shape everyday behaviors with integrity and enthusiasm.

18. Celebrate success and learn from failure. — Take a break to enjoy the good times. And when the bad times inevitably come, if it doesn’t kill you, it really makes you stronger. Failure is often our best teacher. If you learn and change your behavior, then it’s usually worth the cost.

In baseball, (my not-so-subtle shout-out to the World Champion Kansas City Royals!) you’re a hall-of-fame all-star if you can bat .333. I hope at least some of these 18 “lessons learned” help you grow personally, professionally and financially.

Onward and upward!


*Bonus lesson: Having a dog in the office adds a lot! Raia, our "chief stress-relieving officer," comes to the office daily.

Eric with Raia, our “Chief Stress-Relieving Officer.” Having a dog in the office adds a lot!


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