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Here’s what my 100 year-old grandpa has taught me about business

On March 6th, 2022, my grandfather turned 100 years old. Most people are amazed when I tell them and say something like, “wow, what an accomplishment.” The only one who isn’t so impressed is my grandpa himself who says, “what’s the big deal, all I did was wake up every morning.” He’s right, but I still land on the side of things that says it’s pretty damn cool.

A few weeks after his birthday, he received a letter in the mail from the President of the United States. The letter congratulated him on the milestone, thanking him for his service in the Navy and mentioning a few other tidbits about his life and then general congratulations on his longevity. What the President left out was my grandpa’s most valuable trait: his kindness.

(Founder & CEO of Knuckleball Comedy, Ethan Blumenthal, along with family members celebrating Milton Blumenthal's 100th birthday)

My grandpa isn’t just kind though, he is the kindest person in the world. If life were a sport and you received points for certain important categories, he would be the all-time leader in kindness points. Every time you give someone a nice compliment, 1 point, every time you go out of your way to help someone with their groceries, 5 points, every time you help someone move, 1000 points (there isn’t much worse than helping someone move, is there?). Barry Bonds is the all-time homerun leader, Wayne Gretzky is the all-time points leader and Milton Blumenthal is the all-time kindness leader.

The combination of his extended peak performance and his longevity allowed him to run away with the category in his early 90s, back when he was basically a young man. As of now there isn’t even a close second.

A few years ago my grandfather was being honored at our synagogue in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago and my dad said a few words. He told a story of just one day running some errands with my grandpa. When they went to the pharmacy, the clerk saw my grandpa and exclaimed, “Mr. Blumenthal! It’s so great to see you.” When they went to the local corner store, the owner shouted with a smile on his face, “Mr. Blumenthal! What a treat this is!” When they went to the diner for lunch, the waitress couldn’t contain her excitement, “Mr. Blumenthal! You’ve just made my day!”

Years of being kind, smiling and doing the right thing makes my grandpa an honored guest wherever he goes.

Running my own business is hard, frustrating, the problems are never ending and it’s not always easy to be kind. But I try. I try to be kind because it’s the right thing to do but I also know it will help my business.

I try to be kind to my employees. When they tell me they are running late for a gig, inside I want to scream and yell and throw and break everything. But I try to stay calm and think about how my grandpa would respond, and then I say, in the future please leave earlier so we don’t have this issue, but also, drive carefully.

I tell my instructors when they are running late for a camp or class (we teach improv comedy to kids all over the Chicagoland area during the school day and summer camps) to just simply call the camp and let them know they are running late. It’s never an easy call to make and no matter who you are it’s terrible to receive. But when you apologize, do so heartfelt knowing the imposition you put on someone else. And if you’ve built up enough goodwill, if you’ve gone out of your way just slightly to make the other staff feel special, nine times out of ten they will forgive you for being late. They like you and they know this never happens.

Be kind and people give you leeway when something doesn’t go perfectly. When you’re not kind, people jump at the opportunity to fault you any time you might come up short.

Companies hire Knuckleball Comedy for a corporate team building workshop because we do a great job with them. But afterward when it comes time to recommend us, they do so not only because we did a great job, but also because we were professional, easy to work with and kind.

There are many aspects to a business - the marketing funnels, sales teams and CRM software. But the easiest thing for any business to do well is to be kind. Be kind to your employees and they’ll stay longer. Be kind to your past clients and they’ll refer you to new clients. Be kind to strangers you meet because maybe one day they’ll introduce you to the next big opportunity. Be kind to people who said no to you, because even if you never speak with them again, it’s always better to just be kind.

Be like my grandpa, be kind.

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