I can’t tell you what I discovered about the
concept of a perfect world without telling
you where it all started. So let the
“perfect” journey begin.
The year was 1989; it was
another beautiful Colorado summer morning
like any other: 60 degrees, bright blue sky,
with a few cotton-like clouds. I was getting
ready to leave my office to give the 300th
speech of my career. (Of course the first
232 were for services clubs like Optimist,
Rotary, Parents without Partners, and
Parents without a lot of other things, too.)
I had just started to make a few bucks in
the speaking business, had recently bought a
house, and felt pretty good about my future.
I was living the good life; after all, I was
President of the Colorado Chapter of the
National Speakers Association. They don’t
elect just anyone you know. Or do they? Of
course they don’t.
The phone rang; it was a
stranger, Nancy McGraw. She needed
information. The President of the Colorado
Speakers Association would surely have it.
Did I know of any public seminar companies
that were hiring? She was looking for
part-time work as an on-site person for a
public seminar company. They’re the ones who
handle registration on site, sell the
products, and stand at the back of the room
while the speaker is speaking, absorbing all
of those wonderful ideas. Nancy had done a
little work for Seminars International in
the D.C. area before moving to Colorado. Did
I know of anyone hiring?
“I don’t, but why don’t
you come talk with me and see if you’d like
to work for a professional speaker.” Nancy
came in the next day and hasn’t left. Not
that I wanted her to.
After one year, we found
that “one thing” that Jack Palance talks
about in “City Slickers.” That one thing
that, when you find it, you know it—exactly
what you’ve been looking for—the panacea!
Nancy and I were talking about how to work
better together. How can we be more
efficient and effective in the office? How
can we highlight our strengths and outsource
or minimize our weaknesses? Out of the
discussion, came that one thing we knew we
had been looking for . . . the perfect world
concept. How do we create each other’s
“perfect world?” Wouldn’t it be nice in our
employer/employee relationship if we created
a situation in which we both did more of
what we loved, outsourced what we didn’t
like, and focused on living true to our
values? What a concept! In fact, that would
be each of our job descriptions: to create
each other’s Perfect World. Simple, yet
Okay, Nancy asked, “What
is it for you? What drives you? What do you
value? What is your perfect world?”
“It’s anything that
revolves around fun and freedom,” I said.
“Freedom to come and go as I please, freedom
to create, and freedom to make a difference
in this world in ways I’d like. If you help
me do that, I’ll be one happy camper.”
So what does creating a
Perfect World mean for Nancy? A lot.
Nancy takes care of
everything in the office, and takes care of
many things in the house and even the
garage. (We work out of my house.) She does
all the stuff that doesn’t show but makes
all the difference in world.
In addition to running
the office, she covers for me when needed,
reminds me of birthdays two weeks out, and
never lets me leave the house wearing one
black sock and one blue sock. Nice to have
your own fashion police right there on
staff. She takes me to and picks me up from
the airport, does whatever it takes to get
mailings out on time, and will run errands
all over town at any time of the day or
night. And to this day she is the only
person who has successfully surprised me on
my birthday. How clever, throwing me a
surprise party at the airport in Denver for
my fortieth birthday. As I came off the
plane and saw friends and family, I wondered
where they all could be flying off to today.
Nothing like a good surprise as your mind
slowly puts all the pieces together. I was
truly floored by this great surprise—and
If you ask Nancy what she
does for me, she loves to kid around by
saying, “Everything except sex.” Yes, if I’m
in a bind—and I’ve been in quite a few
binds—she’ll do just about anything to
create my perfect world. Anything that is,
except sex. After all, she is married and
that “sex” stuff just doesn’t have a place
in the office.
“Okay, Nancy, what is
your Perfect World?” I asked.
“Get rid of anything to
do with accounting and technology, have more
time for marketing and taking care of our
clients. I’d also like to spend more time
with my son (who at the time was 12) and
with family around the country. I’d like to
travel more, have more fun, and partake in
the delightfully unexpected more often.”
“Okay, done,” I replied.
“No more accounting and technology. We’ll
order out. This will free you up to do more
marketing and spend more time with clients.
You can ‘call in well’ anytime you’d like if
it gives you the opportunity to be with
David and the family. We’ll create an
incentive plan and your reward will be free
tickets to travel anywhere you’d like. And
I’ll do my best to keep things from getting
mundane in the workplace.
“At the end of every
month, we will grade ourselves on a scale of
1-10 on how well we did at creating each
other’s perfect world. If we aren’t at a 9
or 10, we’ll figure out a way to raise the
score the next month.” And for the last 13
years, we’ve stayed in tune with each
other’s Perfect World.
Nancy’s 50th birthday was
a slam-dunk. David, her son, husband, Jack,
and I etched the plot. David called about
three weeks out and said, “Mom I feel
terrible, but I can’t come home for your
birthday. I have three tests that week, and
I can’t make them all up. What if I came
back two weeks later and we’d have more time
to spend together?” Nancy was disappointed,
but she understood.
Fast forward to July 7,
1999, Nancy’s 50th birthday. Being the loyal
employee she is, Nancy is working a half
day. About ten o’clock, the phone rings.
It’s my buddy Tim, but Nancy thinks it’s a
client. I answer and say, “You’ve made a
decision, and you’d like me to speak on
October 23rd in Orlando.” (I covered the
phone.) “Nancy, do me a quick favor, take my
keys and run to the car and get my road
calendar out of the trunk.” (She’d done this
before when I’d forgotten to bring in my
calendar.) She gets there, opens the trunk,
and sees David, who screams, “SURPRRIIIIIIISSEEE!”
After Nancy came to, she
knew she was somewhere in the vicinity of
her Perfect World. David had been happy to
play along and was certainly glad he
survived his time in the trunk. (It was only
six hours . . . just kidding!)
On to September 2001.
Celebrating 13 wonderful years of working
together, I wanted to give Nancy an
“out-of-the-ordinary” raise and do it in a
way she wouldn’t soon forget. Anyone who
could put up with me for 13 years deserves
not only a medal, but something very
My “Keep the Fun Meter on
a 10” buddy, Gary, told me to lease Nancy a
car. “Lease her a car that she wouldn’t buy
for herself, and she will appreciate it
every day. (And the good news is, with the
tax break, your gift goes twice as far.)”
What a brilliant idea. I
mean a perfect idea. So I called Nancy’s
husband, Jack, to help with the latest
Here was the plan:
Nancy’s son, David, would fly out of Seattle
around 9 a.m. PST and I’d pick him up at the
airport on my way back from Colorado Springs
where I had a speech. Nancy was scheduled to
take my car in for servicing. That’s where
I’d drop David off. Clad in a mechanic’s hat
and glasses, David would drive up in a
loaner from the service department, which
would just happen to be her brand new car.
In best disguise, he’d say, “Ma’am, here is
your loaner, ahh, go ahead and just keep
it,” and you know what? I’m coming with
you!” He’d give her a big kiss and he’d
drive her away. Seemed like the perfect
It was the appointed day,
a Tuesday in September. I awoke in a
Colorado Springs hotel all excited about
putting the plan into action. David would be
at the airport in Seattle by now, ready to
fly out. Nancy’s husband, Jack, called me as
I was about to go down to the meeting room.
I already knew. I had been watching the
Today Show as the second plane flew into the
second World Trade Center tower.
surreal. They had closed all the airports
around the country. David wouldn’t be coming
to Denver today. The planned surprise didn’t
seem a big deal any more. Nothing did. A
dark shadow had been cast over the world.
With a lump in my throat, I went downstairs
to fulfill my speaking engagement with the
Rocky Mountain Telecommunications
Association. I tried to offer hope.
After my program, I drove
up to Denver from Colorado Springs. A friend
and I picked up Nancy’s new car. Instead of
driving it to the dealership to drop off
David, I drove it home and parked it in my
neighbor’s garage. Fortunately, my neighbor
Marianne had an extra space and was willing
to hide it.
Two mornings later,
filled with sorrow and still in a daze, I
knew it was time to take a break from our
moping around. I remembered what I had told
the Columbine school administrators soon
after the tragedy at their year-end meeting,
“Your job is not to stop mourning, but to
stop only mourning. It’s okay to take a
break and celebrate what’s good.”
So I called Marianne and gave her the plan.
Here was the scene that
morning: The phone rings in the office. It’s
Nancy says to me,
“Marianne thinks she left her coffeepot on.
Could one of us run over and check? She said
she gave you a garage door opener a few
years back; do you still have it?”
I respond, “I think it’s
in the bottom drawer in the kitchen.” Nancy
finally finds the opener and heads over to
check on the coffeepot. The first thing she
sees when she opens the garage is a shiny
new car. As she tells the story, she
thought, “Wow, Marianne got a new car. I
wonder why she isn’t driving it to work?”
Then she sees a huge card on the car with
NANCY in big letters written on it.
She goes over to the
card, opens it, and reads, “Happy 13 Years!
Thanks for helping to create my perfect
world. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Not sure if the car is
really hers, but thinking it may be, she
comes back to the house for an explanation
with her mouth open, muttering, “Oh my
gosh.” More than once, I confirm the good
news and ask if she turned off the
coffeepot. In the midst of a very tough
stretch, we take time to celebrate.
(One important note: I
was in a fortunate circumstance to be able
to afford a car for Nancy. You don’t have to
be that elaborate. A special card, a dinner
at a wonderful restaurant, a certificate to
get someone’s windows cleaned—any extra and
carefully thought-through gesture will have
the same joyful effect.)
Others’ Perfect Worlds
What if we lived our life
with each other’s “Perfect World” in mind?
What if we spent more time asking questions
and paying attention to the perfect world of
our co-workers, spouses, family and friends?
What if we made choices in life based on
those perfect worlds? Would you sell more?
Would you laugh more? Would you love more?
Would the quality of your relationships
improve? Would the quality of your life
So how do you best go
about creating another person’s Perfect
World?” You start by looking at the world
through their eyes. It’s not always easy if
you only have eyes for “I.” Get past your
self-absorbed self. Pay more attention.
Start by asking
questions. Ask the customers themselves: “If
we could have done one thing better in
working with you, what would it have been?”
Find out and then deliver. Ask: How can I
create a better experience for my customers?
What can I do to truly connect with them?
How can I move from being ordinary to
Do you want to keep good
customers? Want to keep good friends? Want
to keep good employees? Find out what drives
them. Find out what constitutes their
According to the United
States Department of Labor, 87% of employees
leave their jobs because they are unhappy
with their managers. Do you think those
managers are tuned in to employee needs and
The University of
California at Irvine School of Psychology
and Human Behavior conducted a survey to
determine motivating factors for employees.
Would it surprise you that money ranked near
the bottom? Appreciation, flexibility,
challenging work, and good communication
were the top four.
The most effective
company incentive programs I’ve seen are the
ones customized to meet the desires of each
Ralph Waldo Emerson said,
“One of the most beautiful compensations of
this life is that no one can sincerely try
to help another without helping himself.”
It’s a wonderful way to live.
So, you may be asking,
“What does this have to do with a book on
humor? Good question. Glad you asked. You
see, humor doesn’t have to always be about
silliness and laughter. Humor evolves
naturally from an atmosphere in which we
have created delight. Take an environment
free of sorrow, pain, and resentment, then
enhance it with delight and we have created
a space for humor.
By living the “perfect
world” philosophy, we provide an opportunity
for joy, spontaneity, curiosity, silliness,
and laughter to flourish. And that’s humor
at its very best. In fact, that’s . . .
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