A Martial Arts Black Belt on Overpaying for a Company and Other Negotiating Mistakes: Cash Nickerson

A Martial Arts Black Belt on Overpaying for a Company and Other Negotiating Mistakes: Cash Nickerson


Check out all episodes on the My Favorite Mistake main page.

My guest for Episode #108 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is Cash Nickerson. He's the chairman of the North American business unit of AKKA Technologies, a negotiation instructor, and a black belt in karate. He's a visiting professor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law and has MBA and JD degrees.

Cash is the author of six books including his latest, a WSJ bestseller: Negotiation as a Martial Art: Techniques to Master the Art of Human Exchange.

In today's episode, Cash shares his “favorite mistake” story about advising a company in a deal where they ended up overpaying for a major acquisition. Why did Cash see this mistake and then repeat it, before eventually learning the lesson?

We talk about that and other topics including:

  • How and when did you take interest in the martial arts?
  • How has that helped you in business and negotiating, more specifically??
  • Why observing your opponent closely is so important in negotiating or in martial arts
  • Things to look out for if you’re concerned about a rash decision, overcommitted?
    • Behaviors: exaggerated terms, defensiveness or excitability argumentative, making distinctions, “strategic,” constant changes in fundamental assumptions,  the use of power, “you don’t get it”

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  • How to subscribe
  • Full transcript



"I hate thinking about my mistakes. I'm a very positive person. Let's just keep moving forward."
"If you fear you might be doing something stupid,  it takes some humility to even imagine to say, 'But what if it's a bad mistake?'"
When negotiating or deciding: "You need choices. More choices equals better outcomes."

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Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)

Mark Graban (1s):

Episode 108, Cash Nickerson, chairman of AKKA North America, author of the book Negotiation as a Martial Art: Techniques to Master the Art of Human Exchange.

Cash Nickerson (13s):

If you fear, or you might be doing something stupid and it takes some humility to even imagine to say, but what if it's a bad mistake?

Mark Graban (28s):

I'm Mark Graban. This is My Favorite Mistake. In this podcast, you'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes because we all make mistakes, but what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at my favorite mistake, podcasts.com for show notes, links, and more information about Cash Nickerson and his new book. Go to markgraban.com/mistake108. Thanks for listening. And now on with the show.

Mark Graban (1m 9s):

And our guest today is Cash. Nickerson, is a friend of mine. He's the author of six books, including his latest, it's a Wall Street Journal bestseller. It's titled Negotiation as a Martial Art: Techniques to Master the Art of Human Exchange.

Mark Graban (50m 24s):

So before I tell you a little bit more about the book and a little more about Cash, thanks for being here. How are you?

Cash Nickerson (1m 31s):

I'm great. Thanks for having me Mark

Mark Graban (1m 33s):

Or I'm really excited about the conversation. Congratulations on the bestseller status, by the way.

Cash Nickerson (1m 38s):

Thank you.

Mark Graban (1m 40s):

I read the Hollywood R eporter, a writer there did a review, a good writer. He calls the book quotes valid and wholly knowledgeable guide wholly W H O L L Y. Not like holy with, with an H it's a valid and wholly knowledgeable guide in the, the, this it's subverting, the typical potentially ignoramus based assumptions about the art of being a good negotiator. That was that the writers line, or is that your line? What's a ignoramus based assumption.

Cash Nickerson (2m 13s):

You know, I don't know, mark. I didn't even, I don't even know who reviews this. You know, that one was sent to me. Somebody said, Hey, did you see this review? Which I had not. And, but it's interesting. Some of the reviews, I've had two reviews out of Hollywood and I think it's because they find the book entertaining. I mean, it's, and it's meant to be entertaining. You know, I think we, we gained the most from, you know, knowledge that's kind of fun. And so one, one reviewer out of Hollywood said, this is basically so much better than, than, than Trump's books. I can't believe anybody reads Trump's books because you know, this isn't all about this guy and in this vanity thing, he just puts it out there.

Cash Nickerson (2m 59s):

So I I'm kind of pleased at the Hollywood people like it, even though I don't expect it to be turned into a movie anytime.

Mark Graban (3m 6s):

Well, I guess it makes sense. I mean, I guess there is a lot of deal-making here maybe in the context then of the entertainment industry.

Cash Nickerson (3m 14s):

Yeah. I think that's part of it. I also think there's a recognition more so maybe in the arts world then negotiation really is an art. And so I think it partially falls under that and, and the title is, is somewhat seductive in that regard because here's negotiation as a martial art, which immediately, you know, sounds dramatic and interesting and almost fictional.

Mark Graban (3m 41s):

We'll come back and talk more about all of these elements that your martial arts practice negotiating and what you've learned before. I want to read a little bit more about your background though. Cash. One quick question. I think I know the answer to this, but for the audience who might be wondering Cash is a given name or a nickname.

Cash Nickerson (3m 60s):

It is my middle name, my legal official birth certificate, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Steven Cash Nickerson. And I wear it with pride because my mother and father moved from Florida for my dad's first job. And they got everything. They owned into the trunk of their car and they needed money. And back then it wasn't as common of course, for women to work in 1959. And my mother took a job demonstrating and selling vacuum cleaners at JC penny. Now he would take it. It would take someone like my mother to find out that JC Penny's middle name was Cash.

Cash Nickerson (4m 43s):

You know, if I was, and it makes sense that he became a retailer. If he had a name Cash Penny, what else are you going to do? Right. And so she was hoping someday I would be successful. And I'll just say proudly that my mother hasn't had to pay a bill in many, many years.

Mark Graban (4m 60s):

Well, it's good to hear the background on the name. I thought maybe it was a family name, but that's a much more interesting.

Cash Nickerson (5m 8s):

And it is now my son is Andrew Cash and he has guaranteed that when he has a son, that'll be a middle name Cash. So it's definitely going to be a multi-generational now.

Mark Graban (5m 19s):

So let me tell you a little bit more about Cash. Again, our guest Cash Nickerson. He does a lot of things. He is the chairman of AKKA North America's business unit. He was the president CFO general counsel, and the second largest shareholder of a company, PDS Tech prior to its acquisition by AKKA Technologies. A few years back Cash has previously held roles, including being an attorney and a marketing executive for union Pacific railroad and associate, and then a partner at Jenner and Block in Chicago and chairman and CEO of an internet company. He is a visiting professor at Washington University in St. Louis school of law, where he teaches negotiation and he has JD and MBA degrees.

Mark Graban (6m 3s):

And I saw him on TV yesterday doing the promotional rounds of the book. So thank you for coming on my little podcast after being on TV sets across the country, hopefully your favorite mistake story. Isn't about your TV appearances yesterday.

Cash Nickerson (6m 19s):

No, unfortunately the, fortunately those went well, even though in four hours, you do, I did 24 interviews.

Mark Graban (6m 27s):

Yeah. That's, that's got to be one that I say you probably weren't talked out, but it's probably is a tiring, you've got lights and a little bit of pressure.

Cash Nickerson (6m 35s):

It's the best way to do them as it is to actually be repetitive. And that's the hardest thing is to remember exactly what you said last time, because you don't have a teleprompter and you can't see the person with whom you're speaking because you just hear in your ear. Okay. Now you'll be talking to Randy from Indianapolis and, and say hello to Randy. Hello, Randy. And then Randy starts to ask you a questions.

Mark Graban (7m 1s):

Well, I bet one question you didn't get asked yesterday is the question. We always ask guests here. And you're looking back at your career, all the different things that you've done Cash. I mean, what is your favorite mistake?

Cash Nickerson (7m 14s):

It's interesting. I love your question. And I think when everyone hears that question, you know, my favorite mistake or, you know, I, I think initially because we all, once we get to a certain stage in life have so many mistakes, we have one of two reactions. One reaction is how will I choose which everyone would feel. It's like, wow. You know, another reaction is like, I hate thinking about my mistakes. I'm a very positive person. Let's just keep moving forwards. Another reaction, which is where I ended up is actually, you don't have to talk about one of my mistakes for it to be my favorite mistake.

Cash Nickerson (7m 56s):

And so I kind of, I kind of have made this same mistake, but it's a more dramatic and colorful story around one I witnessed and then managed to repeat. Everyone thinks, well, if you see a mistake, you'll avoid it in the future. That's just not my experience because you know, that's why they call them mistakes.

Mark Graban (8m 21s):

So what happened? What did you say?

Cash Nickerson (8m 23s):

Well, you know, and I talk about this in the book. And so it's kind of fun because it's about negotiations and it's about deals in one of the premises of my bookmark is that deals are emotional. I don't care. People think of maybe buying a house as being emotional and a car as being emotional, that every multi-million dollar billion dollar business deal I've been involved with is full of emotion as well. And why is that? It's very interesting. It's because something's stake besides the substance of the deal. Something's at stake. Like if you work in a hospital and you're buying something, you know, that works out or doesn't work out and that's the sort of subject of the deal, it works, doesn't work works well, but it reflects on your career.

Cash Nickerson (9m 15s):

It reflects on your job. It reflects on your reputation. And so the emotion comes in because there's consequences that flow from every, every deal. So the one I'm going to talk about was a, a billion dollar plus deal. It was many years ago, but it's a pattern that I've managed to repeat in my own life, but I try less and less to repeat it. But it generally comes when you sort of convinced yourself that a deal must happen. And, and in this case, I watched a very intelligent, highly educated MIT engineer, MBA, Columbia law degree, Harvard, you know, decorated educational veteran, as it were make a very bad acquisition decision because he was just committed to do it.

Cash Nickerson (10m 11s):

And, and we all can do that, no matter how big or small the deal we get committed to the deal and then start fighting and ignoring evidence around it. And that's, I think a very common issue and I've repeated it in my life. It's just an overcommitment to a deal. At which point we, we start exhibiting certain behaviors and what I have done to reduce the number of times I do this to myself is I've, I've really memorize those behaviors and amount of lookout for those behaviors from myself and from the people around me, when we're all involved in a deal.

Mark Graban (10m 50s):

That's interesting, the way you frame that of at least minimizing, you know, it's, it's, it's a problem. It's a behavior it's hard to completely eliminate even with

Cash Nickerson (11m 2s):

Yes. Yeah. Because you know, and it's important survival skill that we make a decision. You know, if we stood thinking in the Savannah, do I run or do I stay as a, as a threat came at us, you know, we, we don't make it to the next generation. And so decision-making is extremely important. And knowing when you have enough to say, I'm making the decision and when to sort of keep it open for alternatives, you know, this, this is not a perfect science, this is a little bit of an art, and it's a little bit of training of our own instincts, but there are behaviors that if you see them that ought to cause you to say, am I overly committed?

Cash Nickerson (11m 50s):

And it, it could be a group. And when it's a group of call it a group thing where, you know, everybody's like where we're reaching consensus becomes like more important than the decision itself. But I definitely got some warning signs to share with your audience about, Hey, if you start to see these kinds of behaviors, it should make your antenna wiggle and step back and say, are we overly committed to committed? Are we emotionally charged or what?

Mark Graban (12m 20s):

Yeah. So before it would be great to hear those things to look out for in, in the scenario you were thinking of. And I realize you might not, you probably shouldn't name names or there's, there's confidentiality involved, but at least in generalities with the deal saying it was a bad acquisition decision, like just speaking generally, like how, how, when was, when was that clearly a bad outcome after, after acquisition?

Cash Nickerson (12m 47s):

And, and I can share it in general terms. It's many, many years ago, I talk about it in the book. So imagine this, that, you know, we were a big public company and we wanted to buy another public company. And I don't, I don't mind talking about it being both companies were in transportation. And it was an interesting deal because it made sense, but not at the price that we ended up paying. And the story is basically the highly educated gentlemen was negotiating with a rough and tumble entrepreneur who started a trucking company with his brother, like hauling eggs from, for farmers to market.

Cash Nickerson (13m 36s):

Okay. And so he, he, you talk about street smarts, you know, this, so a street smarts versus Harvard, right. And what happened was, you know, let's, let's say the company was worth a billion dollars. The deal was over a billion, but say it was with a billion for hypothetical sake and say the first bid was 400 million based on kind of where the stock was trading and, you know, slight premium to market $400 million. And you could justify that price based on projections. You know, when you do deals, you do lots of different projections and you got a high or low or medium.

Cash Nickerson (14m 16s):

You've had accountants look at the quality of earnings what's really sustainable. And so you end up with, okay, we came up with a fair price, overmarket $400 million, and these are private conversations at this point. So the market didn't react, otherwise you're really in trouble. And so the guy came back and just simply said, my company's not for sale, which is a very good thing to say, when you're, someone's trying to buy you, it's not for sale. It's good

Mark Graban (14m 43s):

Negotiating tactic

Cash Nickerson (14m 47s):

The, after he said that, and you know, and he wouldn't even counter. And so we kind of went to the top end of the projections. And, and now let's say we were at $600 million and he just said, my company's not for sale. Okay. 600 million was really a high value for the company. You know, that would have been a huge premium to the market. It, everything would have to go perfectly in order for that price to work. You know, let's say that was 20 times earnings, you know, so you'd have to have 20 years of current earnings.

Cash Nickerson (15m 28s):

And then finally, I'll just tell you that we ended up paying like 1,000,000,002 for the company. Okay. And the guy who sold it said when he was speaking at the Harvard Club or somewhere himself is street smart, no college education setting. It came to him in a dream, the number debt, and number 1.2 billion came to him in a dream. And the deal got done at 1.2 billion. It was a horrible deal. And I think we ended up selling it a 50% loss eventually, which, you know, 600 million year here, 600 million there, it adds up.

Cash Nickerson (16m 9s):

So that's, that's my favorite mistake because not just because it's so egregious, but because the same elements of getting a deal wrong that went wrong. There are in every deal, larger, small, when we get over committed, that deal just had to happen. That, that Maven, I call them in the book that deal Maven was determined that that deal had to happen. And that's where we ended up. So yeah,

Mark Graban (16m 40s):

I mean, I'm, I am rarely in a position to negotiate, but you know, you think of the idea of at least a little bit of education I've had is that the alternative of walking away. And I mean, I'm thinking of Kenny Rogers, you got, and you got to know when to walk away, know when to run. That seems to apply.

Cash Nickerson (16m 59s):

Absolutely. If you have, we, we joke those of us who have sold businesses and I've sold a few. If you have one buyer, you have no buyer, right? I mean, you need choices, choices lead to better outcomes. That's the way I that's, my phrase, more choices equals better outcomes. And so no choices, there, there should have been alternatives. There should have been the alternative walkway, but it's interesting in this case, the situation was one where the economics of the Western us really favored railroads and the economics and geography of the east really favored trucking because in the west you have long distances and it's flat.

Cash Nickerson (17m 44s):

And in the east you have, you know, lots of terrain and mountains and curves. And so the idea was that instead of a transcontinental railroad, we would be best off with a railroad in the west and a trucking company in the east and the ability to hand off between them. And that was the third and Arthur D. Little and all the consultants years ago had done a great study saying yes. And so once, once we were attached to that outcome, that's basically what happened.

Mark Graban (18m 20s):

So I do you want, I'm trying to think what to ask you an extra, I'll ask you, do you want to, I can hold it. We can hold the thought maybe on the things to look out for, because I think the martial arts aspect of your story is a fascinating one. Can we get into the martial arts? Sure. First. So I was going to ask you, you know, how and well, how, and when did you take interest in the martial arts? Was it something that you were just doing, let's say for physical activity, or did you expect you might get some philosophical or, you know, mental Epiphanes from it? What, what was your intention?

Cash Nickerson (18m 57s):

Really great question. I actually like how you asked that because martial arts has an internal and an external side to it. And most people, depending on the higher educated people are, the more they tend to think about the internal arts. Whereas, you know, I, I, I'm not discriminated against how educated someone is. It's just segments that way. Whereas, you know, if you're don't have graduate degrees in such, or if you're you think of martial arts as MMA and UFC, so, and, and it's, it's interesting that you asked it that way. I started out in high school with karate in upstate New York.

Cash Nickerson (19m 41s):

And I think I did that because I always grew up in fighting neighborhoods. And, you know, I was born on the south side of Philly, you know, upstate New York, I mean, and, and where I was. And then I grew up in Pittsburgh quite a bit. And I just saw a movie out of the furnace at the suggestion of somebody. And, you know, all those kids do was fight. And that's what we did. We were near north Braddock and Forest Hills, and I was just in fighting neighborhoods. And I thought, you know, I could use a little edge. You know, you just, it's just tough blue collar neighborhoods that I grew up in. You had a fight. And so I started in high school and I did it in college.

Cash Nickerson (20m 22s):

And then, you know, I jumped in, in law school, in business school, I was so busy. I kinda lost that side of it. And, and then, you know, when you're doing a career, like everyone else, you get out of balance very quickly. You dive in and all you can see is that need to climb and succeed. And so I lost balance, but then, and this is interesting. I was on a plane and nine 11, and we boarded take-off. I happened to be, I was living in San Francisco and I was taking off from Dallas to head back west and we aborted take off and spent four hours on that plane.

Cash Nickerson (21m 2s):

And I, and I thought after that experience, I thought, you know what? I want to be someone who could forward and attempt because I fly a lot, you know? And so I got heavily back into it after nine 11. And then, and by 2005, I had gotten my first degree, black belt in karate. I relocated to Dallas and second degree in 2007, third degree in 2010, took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu in 2007, I'm a brown belt. I've been doing that for 10 years.

Cash Nickerson (21m 43s):

Black belts next for me, took up by ITTO. And what was fun for me then was w karate didn't take me internally, but with a philosophy, double major in philosophy and English, you know, especially the philosophy side, I really started getting into the internal side when I took up, I Evo and then the Russian martial artist system. So I either is the samurai martial art. And that's when I really got into the internal, the real, the meditation and the focus and the concentration and all that happened about the same time I started writing books.

Mark Graban (22m 19s):

So I've got to take a quick detour though, just to come back to my gosh, I have a nine 11 just, you know, 20 years ago now. So your flight was about to take off. And is that when they said clear the airspace? No more flight.

Cash Nickerson (22m 32s):

Yeah, we awarded takeoff. So I would say, let's say nine, 10 or something like that. Maybe it was eight 10 here, whatever, but it was enough that we started to take off and then came down. So we awarded takeoff. Literally.

Mark Graban (22m 51s):

Did you know when you boarded the plane? What had happened at that point already?

Cash Nickerson (22m 56s):

No. Nobody knew anything. We were going to take off. And then, and I was in C4 B in case you wanted to do, I remember it, yes. Vividly. And we didn't know for the first hour or two, what was going on? They said there was a mechanical issue. They basically, I don't know if that's what they were told or if they lied to us, but it

Mark Graban (23m 18s):

Could have been a mechanical issue on that day,

Cash Nickerson (23m 20s):

About two hours into it. They said due to terrorist activities out in the Eastern us, we won't be taking off. And we spent four hours on the plane because once they ordered that ground stop, but I think there were 4,000 planes in us skies. There aren't 4,000 gates. You think you wait for a gate now. So we waited and waited for a gate. So that, that had an impression on me. I felt like, you know what that was before I knew about what I think was a United 93 or whatever that crashed in Shanksville, where those really, really brave fellow Americans decided to just take it on really unbelievable. I wanted to be that guy.

Cash Nickerson (24m 1s):


Mark Graban (24m 1s):

As you mentioned, you know, with getting into writing books, well, we'll bring it back to start the transition away from thinking of that day, but what you learned from your, your new theory, refound practice of martial arts and new martial arts beyond your original karate, like how, how did you start connecting the dots and you've, you've your previous book listening is a martial art, correct? Yup, yup. Yeah. So how did you start weaving practices and what you've learned from martial arts into your writing and your, your business se

Cash Nickerson (24m 39s):

Usually there's really, you know, this, this Russian martial arts system is very internal. Jujitsu's internal. I E those internal by internal. I mean, you, there are elements of you can't really do the external well without the internal. So I don't remember whether I noticed that first with jujitsu or with systemic, but I remember it vividly. Would you Jitsu when I would work with somebody who was a world champion and I only trained with world champions, I had the luxury of doing that. I, I would try to do something to them and they would disappear.

Cash Nickerson (25m 24s):

And it was just fascinated me and I talked to him a little bit. It's like, what? What's going on there? Well, they were studying me so intently. They knew what I was going to do before I did it and would move. So I never had any structure to work with against them. And, and the Russian did the same way, but it was more up R E they would just disappear and you couldn't exert any force against them. So they were, they were studying you so intently in, and that's when I got into the listening, I viewed them as listening in a way that was so far beyond what we do in our business lives. And that's what, that's why listening was the first one.

Cash Nickerson (26m 4s):

We did training in the dark, up in the woods, in the Algonquin forest. So we, every other year had a camp up there for a week. Okay. And we would work in the dark and the water, whatever, with, you know, former Russian special forces dudes, you know, and we would do things where someone would walk towards you with a knife. Okay. And they would form an intention of whether they were going to harm you or not harm you 30 feet away from you, and then walk towards you. And you had to, it was a training knife, but it, but they were, they would hurt.

Cash Nickerson (26m 47s):

And you had to discern whether they intended you harm or not. So that when they got to you, you either had to be prepared to block or be prepared to shake their hand. And we train that over and over and again, and I will tell you that the level of focus, concentration and listening may made you able to pretty much get to the point where you could discern. And it wasn't like they were like putting on an angry face or a happy face. They were just coming to you. And so I was so blown away that I could be trained on intention that I thought, you know, if I can really learn this intention, think about how it helped me in face to face business.

Mark Graban (27m 34s):

So, so what I hear you saying is, you know, effective martial arts is not just reactive, a kick and then a punch and then a kick there's there's this, this, if you will sizing up of your opponents and, and how does that translate then into the practice of negotiating?

Cash Nickerson (27m 54s):

Yeah. So if you study the person with whom you're dealing, okay. And I suppose somewhat the same thing happens in poker, reading tells. And really you, you can know if they're listening to you, not listening to you, what they're thinking next, where they're headed, even before they're headed there by, you know, what they look down at. So it's incredible advancement of your observational skills that helps you have an edge in dealing with another human being, that intense engagement, where in martial arts, the consequences are, if you don't study it well enough, you get hit.

Cash Nickerson (28m 40s):

So that really gets your attention. But in a business setting, even in a zoom setting, your ability to essentially feel someone else can, can give you a great edge on what they're, what cars they're holding, what they're hiding, what they're thinking are they bluffing

Mark Graban (28m 58s):

Is that process of observation, which I imagine includes body language, listening, not just to the words, but inflection and like that, that all seems based off of our physical senses. This is what you're describing is different than intuition, or does intuition enter into it at some point, do you think

Cash Nickerson (29m 20s):

That's an excellent question. I think intuition always plays a role because we see, you know, millions of bits of data and decide what we react to. You know, it's really quite amazing if we really were conscious of everything that we're taking in from our senses are our heads would blow up. They'd explode. And so a variety of things filters what we see. And so those filters can work against us, right? Because, you know, I might have trained my filters that you nodding is background noise, but really you nodding is extremely important, right?

Cash Nickerson (30m 8s):

Me being aware of when you're not, when you don't nod. And so you need to remove some filters in order to gain these higher observational skills.

Mark Graban (30m 21s):

So again, our guest is Cash Nickerson. His most recent book is negotiation as a martial art. I didn't want to make sure we come back and close the loop on you. You had mentioned the things to look out for, and this was specifically things to look out for. If your deal is a bad one, is that right?

Cash Nickerson (30m 39s):

I would say these are things to look for. If you're concerned about whether you made a rash decision, you're over committed to a decision. You know, I think it's, it's really bad. I'm reading a pretty good book that talks about it says, take your three worst decisions in business and add up what you'd be worth if you hadn't made those decisions. And it's a really high number in, and it's basically like being smart and doing brilliant things.

Cash Nickerson (31m 20s):

Isn't as important as not doing dumb things. And so if you fear, you might be doing something stupid and it takes some humility to even imagine the say, but what if it's a bad mistake? So I view this is anytime you're concerned, actually I would take any major deal decision, whether you're just buying a, even buying a copier and run it by say, do any of these behaviors are any in present? And then this, this might give you a hint to take another look a second, look a third look.

Mark Graban (31m 57s):

So before we get into these, yeah. So this is a broader framework for, am I making a mistake,

Cash Nickerson (32m 3s):

Right? Am I going to pay a dumb tax? Is it going to be a dumb tax due on this? Yeah.

Mark Graban (32m 11s):

So what are those behaviors to look out for?

Cash Nickerson (32m 15s):

Some of the warning signs are any exaggerated terms. So anytime you hear, like, if someone who works for you, if you're in a leadership position, this is the best deal ever. This is the greatest thing on earth. This is, you know, exaggerated terms should make your antenna quiver. Maybe it's true, but why do they have to say it? I'd just be happy if somebody said, I think this is a good transaction because of this and that. I think we should go with supplier a, because of this. I think we should hire person B because of this. Whenever somebody says, we'll never see anyone like this again, then I think, and that could apply to hiring or hiring any I, all, these are just really, it really decisions because if you're in any kind of serious business role, the most important thing you do and the thing you do every day and the thing you do so naturally you don't even realize you're doing it is make decisions.

Cash Nickerson (33m 19s):

You sign things, you make decisions. Someone comes to you and say, or B you say, Hey, okay. You know, and maybe you get a good presentation. Maybe you don't, but that's what executives do and make decisions. So I always be aware, exaggerated terms. Another one too, to watch out for number two on my list is, is sort of arguing or defensiveness, as soon as you say, but what about this? They get all a level of excitability or argument. You know, one of the things that you find is that, you know, smart people are good at arguing. And so they can be very persuasive.

Cash Nickerson (33m 60s):

And so, you know, somebody's a highly educated person and you say, well, I think we're going to go with a, and they say, well, here's why B is better. And I, I don't think you see it and boom, boom, boom. You know, I was like, maybe they're right. But at least I just wonder why some defensive, if I'm wrong, I'm wrong. Let's talk about it. But the overreaction, heated argumentative state and we are, and then you're, and then it's just sort of game on battle on, right? So that's, that's a second one, a third one. And I saw this in this deal. It's making distinctions, you know, it's like, I believe it or not.

Cash Nickerson (34m 46s):

When I went to Carleton college undergraduate, I had a professor of philosophy named Perry, Mason and Perry. Mason said, you know, when you're losing an argument, you need to do one of two things. Either need to change the subject or make a distinction and change it. What's an example of that. Sorry. Yeah. So making a distinction. So in the case of this trucking acquisition, what happened was we had numbers that said here's what the less than truckload market is expected to grow at for the next 10 years. Here's the growth rate.

Cash Nickerson (35m 27s):

And let's say it was 7% good growth rate, excellent growth rate. So the less than truckload market. So, you know, package market back then would grow at 7%. Well, if you ran at 7% out, the best number you could get to is a value of $600 million. So what the numbers guys went back and did, was say, oh, you know what? There's, we can segment that less than truckload market into a fast, less than truckload market and a slow less than truckload market and the fast, less than truckload market. So quicker delivery times is actually growing at 14%. So made that distinction.

Cash Nickerson (36m 8s):

Let's not just look at less than truckload. Look, we can slow, you know, slow and fast soap. So this is almost like a overly analytic state that is going to, because what's someone doing it. They're trying to get to a result instead of an honest intellectual, intelligent appraisal of options.

Mark Graban (36m 29s):

Yeah. It sounded like a massaging, the numbers to prove the point you wanted to make, as opposed to doing a good rational process of, well, we might decide to buy. We might decide to walk away.

Cash Nickerson (36m 40s):

Exactly. Exactly. That might be someone like looking at buying a house. And you know, you look at the, the growth rate of, you know, what appreciation could there be on the house. And if you look at it over a long period of time, it's a 4% growth rate. But you know, last year was 20%. So you project the 20% forward because it's like, I have a lot of friends who've been doing that lately.

Mark Graban (37m 13s):

It's 20 to 21. Yeah. Yeah.

Cash Nickerson (37m 16s):

Gosh. Another one of my fun seven is anytime people use the word, strategic, strategic is a euphemism for, ah, let's throw the numbers out the window. No, no, no. This is a strategic acquisition. I I've taught courses before and acquisitions where I've said be aware of the strategic acquisition because it means the numbers don't add up.

Mark Graban (37m 44s):

I learned that early in my career, even in the context of, let's say strategic projects that somebody like me as an engineer at the time, like I'd have to make this business case and you get to a certain point in the organization and executive could just say, go do it. It's strategic. I've heard the same thing. Even at that level of work,

Cash Nickerson (38m 1s):

You know, the word strategic is kind of fun because whenever somebody was like, they didn't know what else to do with an executive in a, in a major corporation. They they'd give him some little strategic title, you know? And that's when you knew they were done or assigned to strategic

Mark Graban (38m 19s):


Cash Nickerson (38m 21s):

They were done. Here's a good one. And I kind of alluded to this in distinctions, but constant changes and assumptions. You know, when you sit down and make a decision, you sit down and commit. Here's the, that we're basing this decision on. And those should be like bricks that hold your bridge up. And then someone comes back and say, you know, maybe we were wrong about this break. Maybe we don't need this break while you take that brick out, the bridge falls down. But, but if you take that brick out, I can get across. I can make, I can make this thing happen. Yeah. That's a good, so constant changes or changes in fundamental assumptions. This is very dangerous.

Cash Nickerson (39m 2s):

The use of power use of power. This is like, look, you know how long you had one guy say to me one time when I was questioning it, a decision how long you've been out of law school? You know, I've been doing this, I have this, you know, this, this power, I'm the executive vice president. And I'm the vice president, you know, I'm accountable. I'm the one. And like that makes it smarter, a better I'm accountable. Well, now I feel better, you know, good to know what's that do for me? What's that worth? Can I take that to the bank? I'm accountable. I always love that. When people say, no problem, I'm accountable. It was like, oh, well, that's good to know.

Cash Nickerson (39m 46s):

That's going to be quite helpful in bankruptcy.

Mark Graban (39m 49s):

Yeah. That word gets used a lot in different settings. Like where I work in healthcare, holding people accountable is a polite way of saying we're going to blame them for things that maybe weren't their fault. But the, I looked up the word accountable in the dictionary. Once it basically just, it means to give account, to explain what happened. That's different than responsibility or ensuring success. Somehow.

Cash Nickerson (40m 11s):

It's just something accountable, but any use of any kind of power term or I'm accountable. And it's up to me and you know, it's, you know, maybe you ought to maybe your antenna should quiver a little bit and take another look in my last, one's kind of a favorite, cause I spent time in the Silicon Valley. I spent time in the, in the.com era and you know what people would say out there. And I still sometimes say it. You don't hear it as much in other projects, but is it whether you get it or not? You don't get it. I don't know.

Cash Nickerson (40m 51s):

He doesn't get it. And so early on in the tech bubble, it was like, mark, doesn't get it. Oh, or mark. Yeah. He gets it. When people would talk about revenue doesn't matter. It's eyeballs, right? There was some truth to, I mean, early on, especially it was like anybody who worried about revenue, you had, there was no hope for you in the valley revenue,

Mark Graban (41m 19s):

Acquire users. And then we'll figure out the business model.

Cash Nickerson (41m 23s):

It was all about eyeballs. You know how many eyeballs you have,

Mark Graban (41m 27s):

Somebody doesn't get it. That's, that's just dismissive without having a good basis. And then maybe that back to what you wanted earlier back thing, somebody who's not going along with the group thing will get labeled well, they don't get it. Even if they're the one who is got the right assessment of the situation and or they're the one willing, brave, or stupid enough to speak up about

Cash Nickerson (41m 50s):

It's my favorite fable. The emperor has no clothes, which is the most vivid observation of group think nobody. And that, that fable, believe it or not exists. In many, many cultures I researched at one time and it was, it was often about legitimacy. Believe it or not. So really, really amazing all over the world that fable existed in cultures. So this shows how deeply rooted these behaviors are.

Mark Graban (42m 24s):

What Cash, I want to ask you. One other thing. And again, I want to remind the audience Cash Nickerson. The book, the full title is Negotiation as a Martial Art: Techniques to Master the Art of Human Exchange.

Mark Graban (50m 24s):

So you can learn more. Cash's website is CashNickerson.com, but I I've got to ask you, it's a follow-up to something we chatted about the other day before we recorded here, a book you said you might write the title you gave me was “mistakes you might've missed.” So I wanted to see if you could tell the audience why, why, why, why you might do,

Cash Nickerson (42m 58s):

You know, I've had a wonderful career so far of, you know, doing many things all over the world and many different types of things. Most many people are smart and just do one thing, something they're really good at. I have turned ADD into a life and two into a financial success. And, and so I think I've seen mistakes and done mistakes from so many different angles in so many different contexts. I think it'd be kind of fun to, you know, share what it's like to just see different facets that maybe, maybe people haven't seen mistakes you might've missed.

Mark Graban (43m 41s):

And with a hope that maybe it reduces, you know, some of the kind of mistakes that I've made, that that might help other people. And they're there there's so many in so many interesting things. I've just been so lucky to meet so many different people. But I, I had, I had one person tell me that God told me to God told them to buy my company. And I said, God told me to sell it to you. And it w that was my quick retort. And it turned out to be a horrible deal because you know, when you do a deal, sometimes you're, you're, you're with the people for a long time. And it's like, you know, I kind of, I just have lots of them.

Cash Nickerson (44m 21s):

And I think we, we, we can almost have a mistakes club. You could have a nice club where we just got together, you know, periodically. And, and like, I'd like to call it lessons learned mistakes is kind of the negative side. And, and I think it's, it's hard to plow forward, be optimistic. There's so much more money to be made in the future that I tend not to. I, I tend to like figure out what went wrong and then never recast the trade again. So I was like, I'm done. Okay. Let's not do that again. Here's the seven, here's the seven things to look out for next time. If I hear any of these things, I'm going to say, wait a minute, because I did repeat, you know, these on at least two other deals that I did.

Cash Nickerson (45m 8s):

And I found me and I just did what I swore I would never do. So

Mark Graban (45m 13s):

I, I hear what you're saying. You know, I think there's a balance to be found and we want to recognize mistakes. We want to reflect on it, but not to dwell on it. Maybe there's, there's a point where, you know, because you know, the, the, the tone and the theme of this podcast is not beating ourselves up or beating up the guests for why did you do that? But there, there's probably a point of saying, okay, I've learned from it. I've analyzed it. And try to, I know that we've tried to do differently in the future, where, to your point, if people miss the mistake, if they don't realize it's a mistake or they quickly just brush it aside, like they're in denial, then they're doomed to repeat.

Cash Nickerson (45m 54s):

I will tell you, you'll be thrilled to know this, probably because it really endorses your, your search here in your podcast. I won't deal with anyone who says they never had a failure. I just want, because either they've never reached far enough or they're lying to me and often it's the latter. So why would I want to do business with somebody then tell me, they're never made a mistake. Anybody, you know, I'm I know it's not a political show, but if somebody says to you, well, everything I do, I'm a winner. And I always win. I know that I can't trust them right out of the gate. I know it. And that's a problem.

Cash Nickerson (46m 35s):

I was thinking about a deal that I did and I, all these things were present. And yet I did it anyway. And in that case, when this is what I learned from that one, I had private equity investors in a deal, and they were pushing me to said, listen, we need this return on our numbers. So you got to do deals. And I did a deal. I shouldn't have done because I had outside people pressuring me, but I still did it. And so my lesson learned from that was, you know, just because someone pushes you into it is not an excuse. You have to make the decision say no, if they don't like it. I think that can be hard sometimes because we speak as if we have the power to decide and control things.

Cash Nickerson (47m 14s):

Oftentimes there's other players involved and there's pressures and it can be a pressure of, oh no, if I don't do this, I'm out of business. That's a common pressure. It could be a pressure. My investors are demanding a 20% return. If I don't do this deal, they won't get it. And so I think in fairness to ourselves, when we make mistakes, I tell people this successes are team efforts. And so our failures, right? It's a team effort. And so maybe the best we can do is try and create a culture where we hold each other accountable to help reduce the number of times we make a collective bad decision.

Cash Nickerson (47m 54s):

Cause we all just see, like we got to do it

Mark Graban (47m 59s):

Well, Cash, if you end up writing that book, maybe we can talk again here on the podcast. Maybe this podcast can become the official podcasts that your club members listened to, but I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. And you know, one thing I've been trying to do with the podcast is, you know, know in a way normalizing being open about mistakes. I appreciate that you and all my other guests have been willing to come on and share something that, you know, on some level, you know, people always like to tell the stories that paint themselves in the best light. But to me, the, the fact that people are willing to admit these things and grow and help others. I, to me, that, that right there, that's a really positive light.

Cash Nickerson (48m 41s):

It's, it's very healthy. One thing I do and I make my students do an in class. I always do a preview and review of every significant meeting, a negotiation, a deal. You know, what I think would happen? What did happen, lessons learned it's. So if you can't learn, then, you know, that's, that's a problem, but I will tell you when you, I lost several million dollars when I repeated this mistake, all the same behaviors, but I was pressured into it. And I can't, I can't have that excuse. I was pressured into it. Now, when I feel myself pushed in a direction that I know isn't good, I just stop and say, I can't go that direction.

Cash Nickerson (49m 23s):

I'm going to tell you why. And here's the seven things and I can see five of them right now, servicing you're pushing me. You're arguing with me. You're trying to convince me. This is strategically important. You know? And so here's my seven, you've had five. So I, I can't do it. One other thing that I've been thinking about lately is, and this is great to help reduce the number of mistakes we make is I'm trying to get better at saying no, I'm trying to get better at saying, no, you, you meet some people. And all they do is say no, but for those of us that are positive and want to buy and sell and want to get things done, no is hard.

Cash Nickerson (50m 6s):

But now is the key to making fewer mistakes and not having to pay that dumb tax.

Mark Graban (50m 13s):

Well, that's great advice, Cash, a lot of great advice that you shared with us here in the episode again today. So again, the book is Negotiation as a Martial Art: Techniques to Master the Art of Human Exchange. Cash Nickerson has been our guest. Cash. I'm glad you didn't start the practice of saying no. And I asked you to do,

Cash Nickerson (50m 33s):

Thanks for saying yes. Well, you didn't exhibit any of the seven behaviors. What a pleasure. Thanks for calling. I really enjoyed it. Thanks

Mark Graban (50m 45s):

Again for show notes, links, and more information about Cash and his book, go to mark graban.com/mistake108. If you liked the episode, please share it with a friend or a colleague, share it on social media. That would really help get the word out about the podcast and our great guests as always. I want to thank you for listening. I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes, how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive I've had listeners tell me that they started being more open and honest about mistakes in their work. And they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about problems because that leads to more improvement and better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me myfavoritemistakepodcast@gmail.com.

Mark Graban (51m 31s):

And again, our website is myfavoritemistakepodcast.com.

Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus. He is also a Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Marketing with the healthcare advisory firm, Value Capture.