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Archive for February, 2009

Abandon Yesterday

Great little Change Leadership conversation starter by Peter Drucker over at Branding Strategy Insider:

We do not hear much anymore about overcoming resistance to change, which 10 or 15 years ago was one of the most popular topics of management books and management seminars. Everybody has accepted by now that change is unavoidable. But that still implies that change is like death and taxes–it should be postponed as long as possible, and no change would be vastly preferable.

But in a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm. To be sure, it is painful and risky, and above all, it requires a great deal of very hard work. But unless an organization sees that its task is to lead change, that organization–whether a business, a university, or a hospital–will not survive. In a period of rapid structural change the only organizations that survive are the “change leaders.” It is therefore a central 21st-century challenge for management that its organization become a change leader.

In most cases, yep. Sadly, most business managers are too busy dealing with every-day business issues to help lead their companies towards their next evolution. Many organizations (especially manufacturing operations) tend to be culturally adverse to change. These types of organizations rarely create environments that are likely to produce or retain business leaders for whom change management is a normal day-to-day process. More importantly, these companies tend to get drawn into the death-by-pricepoint mentality: Rather than changing their ways, rather than investing in new designs, new technologies and new methodologies, they opt to seek out cheaper raw materials, cheaper manufacturing operations, cheaper packaging, and cheaper customer service/support, for example.

Unfortunately, there comes a point where the quality of a product drops below standard – whether that product is a pair of jeans, a computer, a car, a pair of running shoes, or plain old customer service. Cheaper begets cheaper. The equation never changes: What you put in is what you get out. Don’t ever expect to take significant cost out of your model and somehow increase the quality and value of your product – at least not without real change being added to the mix.

The saddest kind of company is the one which has an underlying culture of innovation – one where middle-managers have great ideas and their teams are enormously talented – but where the leaders (at the top) are adverse to change: “We’ve been doing it this way for fifty years. Why change anything now?” That’s a great way to force the great ideas out of an organization and foster an insipid yes-man culture.

Unless you happen to be an incredibly great restaurant or an opera house or an artisan of some sort.

Change leadership is not about digging up the next mucky layer of lowest bidders. It isn’t about finding even cheaper labor. It is not about cutting yet another corner. It is about improving processes. It is about improving designs. It is about doing things better and smarter. It is about instilling a culture of improvement and clever ideas and innovation within a company. It is about creating ecosystems in which great ideas can flourish – the kinds of ideas that give companies a competitive edge. Some may be ways to improve a product’s quality and utility while making it cheaper to produce. Some of it may be cost-neutral design improvements. Some of it may be understanding where resources are being wasted, and where they could be retasked.

Abandon yesterday: The first step for a change leader is to free up resources that are committed to maintaining things that no longer contribute to performance and no longer produce results. Maintaining yesterday is always difficult and extremely time-consuming. Maintaining yesterday always commits the institution’s scarcest and most valuable resources–and above all, its ablest people–to nonresults. Yet doing anything differently–let alone innovating–always creates unexpected difficulties. It demands leadership by people of high and proven ability. And if those people are committed to maintaining yesterday, they are simply not available to create tomorrow.

The first change policy, therefore, has to be organized abandonment. The change leader puts every product, every service, every process, every market, every distribution channel, every customer, and every end use on trial for its life. And the change leader does so on a regular schedule.

The question it has to ask–and ask seriously–is “If we did not do this already, would we, knowing what we now know, go into it?” If the answer is no, the reaction must not be “Let’s make another study.” The reaction must be “What do we do now?”

Read the entire post here. Good stuff. Have a great weekend, everyone. ;)

Photo by Chris Wray McCann.

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My good friend and super personal trainer Holly DiGiovine sent out an email over the weekend that struck a chord with me. Here’s some of what she had to share:

When you have a goal that is as huge as the marathon-it will “keep you honest.” It’s not like a smaller goal that you can announce and then put off or fake your way through. Once you sign up, commit months to training, and take your first step on race day-you better have done your homework.

The beauty of this is that it goes against 99% of the natural tendencies of our culture that favors gratification without effort or devotion. But is that kind of achievement ever as satisfying? Linda Hill once told me she loved the quote, “There is no glory in training, but there is no glory without training.” In no way is this more true than in running.

And business.

One thing I’ve found over the years is that many of the folks I train with (and race against) are for the most part as devoted to their jobs (if not more) as they are to running or cycling or triathlon.

Unlike participation in say, golf or softball or basketball – no offense to club/league sports – the type of determination, discipline and emotional focus that comes with training day in, day out for extremely challenging endurance events (often by yourself) tends to bleed over into people’s 9-5’s.

Whether you’re training for a marathon, a century or the Ironman triathlon, one thing you quickly find out is that there’s no room for bullshit out there on the pavement. You either do the work or you’re screwed. Politics won’t get you to the finish line. It doesn’t matter who you know or how well you can work the system. When you’re out there, every weakness bubbles up to the surface and stares you in the eye. Lack of preparation, lack of motivation, lack of dedication will all come back to bite you in the ass. there’s nowhere to hide. They will all find you and jump up on your back to stop you dead in your tracks. The choice becomes this: Do you let them stop you, or do you accept them and keep going?

You learn a lot about yourself, training for that type of event.

You learn a lot about how to break thresholds and get past your own little ego, training for events like these. When you’re tired and sore and hungry but you still have four miles to go, guess what? You still have four miles to go. How you get through these last four miles is entirely up to you. Nobody cares whether you walk those last four miles or run, or hail a cab. Nobody made you set 26.2 miles as a goal. Or 100 miles. Or 144+.

Once you’ve broken past your lack of will and learned to keep going, you are transformed. A similar thing happens to Marines during training. At some point, who you used to be before you went beyond what you thought your limitations were, before you kissed excuses goodbye, before you left all of the bullshit that stood in your mind’s way ceases to exist. You become someone else.

That someone else, the marathoner, the long distance cyclist, the triathlete, the Ironman, he or she walks into your place of work with you every morning.

We all work with two types of people: Partisans of the least amount of effort, and dedicated professionals.

The latter aren’t all marathoners or triathletes, but I have yet to meet an Ironman or marathoner who didn’t take his or her intensity and dedication to their job.

Not that there’s anything wrong with drinking a case of beer and watching sports on TV all weekend, but who you are outside of your work does have parallels with who you are when you are at work.

Something to think about.

Update: Wow. You guys have turned this post into The BrandBuilder blog’s most popular post ever. Over 2,000 views in less than 24 hours already. Thank you all: Fellow runners, cyclists, swimmers, triathletes… It’s amazing to have so many of you respond to this post with so much enthusiasm. You’ve really made my day. Next time you’re in the Greenville, SC be sure to look me up. Lots of great running, cycling and racing out here.

Train hard! ;)

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xxooxo

I am very flattered that Steve Woodruff asked me to participate in his Five in the Morning series, so I will ty to be worthy of what is turning out to become a great Friday morning tradition. Without further fanfare, here are five of my favorite “must read” posts from the last few days:

First, let’s start this one off with a bang thanks to a) Logic+Emotion’s Dave Armano, and b) Ford’s very own Social Media honcho Scott Monty, who delivered a fantastic interview on Fox News this week: In Dave’s “battle of the brands” post, Scott aptly deflates an unfortunate “let’s use social media to create viral campaigns” argument and refocuses the conversation on the real value of Social Media – not as a gimmicky “push” channel, but as a genuine engagement channel where real human-t0-brand connections and conversations take place. Scott is brilliant in his subtle approach and a breath of fresh air in an often hyped-to-death nonsensical monologue about the Twitters and Facebooks of the world.

Dave then takes the conversation to a whole different level by getting into the dynamics of personal brands interacting with corporate brands, using Scott’s very unique position: Already active in Social Media and with a fairly large following, Scott brings his network with him to Ford’s doorstep. For better or for worse, the lines between Scott Monty the person and Scott Monty the very public Ford honcho quickly get blurred. Fascinating and well tempered post by one of my favorite people in the blogosphere. I definitely encourage you to read it, bookmark it, digg, and share it as Dave’s questions will be big topics of discussion in months and years to come.

Numero dos: Via my good friend Gabriel Rossi comes this fantastic post by Landor’s Allen Adamson on the difference between “brand” and “branding,” for starters. Here’s a little bit of magic from that post:

A brand is something that exists in your head. It’s an image or a feeling. It’s based on associations that get stirred up when a brand’s name is mentioned. The ing part — branding — is the signal or expression of the brand that generates images and feelings. Branding signals include advertising, package design, product design, functionality, retail environments, online experiences, public relations and human behavior. Branding is the process by which brand images get into your head.

(I may carry a copy of this post in my back pocket as the topic comes up often.) Allen does an amazing job of concisely going through some essential brand attributes that often get overlooked by busy and stressed out brand stewards. Things like differentiation, relevance, esteem and knowledge. Great little post you’ll want to rediscover regularly if you know what’s good for you.

Trois: This is actually a series of posts assembled by Altitude Branding’s Amber Naslund as a Social Media starter kit. Whether you’re getting started in Social Media or trying to find a concise, simple way to explain it to your boss, aunt or client, everyone will find something of value in the posts – if only Amber’s writing style which I kind of dig. In no particular order:

The Social Media Starter Kit: Blogging, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and plenty more to come, I’m sure. Amber is always a great read, so if you aren’t already visiting her blog regularly, you might want to fix that.

d) Valeria Maltoni’s “Don’t Script, Improvise” (based on Mike Bonifer’s wonderful presentation by the same name) takes us out of the Social Media conversation again to focus on smart business strategery. The skinny: Stop being so rigid and scipted with your business, already. Relax and build flexibility into your model. As Valeria’s post is quick to point out:

“Improvisation invites participation, liberates good ideas, and challenges players to work at the height of their intelligence.”

But beyond that, allowing yourself to improvise makes your interactions with customer come across as fresh and genuine rather than rehersed and unremarkable. Chew on that, then read some more.

And lastly, a little bit of a sidewinder to end this episode of Five in the Morning: Instead of a blog post, check out this great article from IDEO’s Tim Brown published by the Harvard Business Review. “Design Thinking” is a ten page guide to rethinking… well, the way you think about business challenges, product development, marketing, growth, etc. Tim is pretty brilliant and IDEO has been writing the book on institutional innovation fo decades now (they helped develop the computer mouse, for crying outloud), so he knows what he is talking about. In times of economic uncertainty and strategic confusion, his toughts on adaptive innovation and hybrid thinking can’t hurt. Read, digg, stumbleupon, bookmark, share, etc. And if you enjoy the article, consider reading more of Tim’s thoughts on his blog.

Wow. Time does fly when you’re having fun. Maybe we should make this Ten in the morning, next time.

Before I take off, two last little things:

1. If you are discovering Steve for the first time in this post, be sure to subscribe to Steve Woodruff’s StickyFigure blog and don’t forget to also follow him on Twitter: @SWoodruff

2. If you are discovering the BrandBuilder blog for the first time, welcome. You can also subscribe to my feed or connect with me on Twitter: @thebrandbuilder

Cheers, and have a great weekend!

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I’ve been a film fanatic ever since my parents took me to see the first Star Wars movie (now known simply as Episode IV). Since I’ve also been a big advertising fan since… well, since I was old enough to watch TV, it stands to reason that movie trailers (the advertising of movies) kind of rank pretty high on my list of attention-grabbers.

Let me say this again: I love movie trailers. Always have. Always will.

But here’s the rub: Most trailers these days aren’t any good. They used to be. There used to be a certain degree of savoir-faire when it came to cutting movie trailers. They were exciting. They made you want to see more. They made your mouth water.

Not so anymore.

Most trailers now seem to be disjointed and pointless. The rule of the day seems to be “okay, let’s throw as much crap as we can into that twenty-second spot as we possibly can. Priority 1: Explosions. Priority 2: The funniest lines in the movie. Oh… and let’s add 20 extra seconds of useless footage at the end just to explain the entire plot of the movie to the portion of the audience who isn’t savvy enough to want to see the movie without having it explained A-Z upfront.”

Yawn.

To be fair, note that I said “most” not “all.” Some trailers are great. But they are the exception rather than the rule.

And don’t even get me started with the TV trailers. Not even worth the virtual ink. Completely worthless.

So before I go on, let me throw a little note to the powers that be in Hollywood: Please, please, please, stop putting out lousy trailers. Please!!! Aside from the fact that bad trailers don’t entice people to go see the movies they advertise (no, really, think about it), those of us who look forward to them are getting tired of having our expectations shattered by remedial, poorly cut junk.

How hard is it to put together an exciting 30-60 second spot with 90+ minutes of footage? If my neighbor’s kid can do it for free on his Mac and post it to YouTube, surely, a highly paid studio editor can do a half-decent job. Right?

But enough about that. Read the fascinating (and quick) post on Tom Asacker’s blog about advertising’s effect on expectations rather than simply sales. (It deals with movie trailers.) Here’s a sliver:

“Instead of examining the effect of advertising on sales, we examine how advertising affects the updating of market-wide sales expectations. The focus on expectations creates a valuable advantage. Our measure of expectations, which is derived from a stock market simulation, is an accurate predictor of sales.”

Confused? No worries. Click here to read the whole post.

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Via the SwampFox Insights blog:

“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”

—Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

The man has a point.

Check out this brilliant website.

A lot of people don’t think of “design” as being all that important, because our daily interactions with “design” are limited to gadgets like the iPod or the latest pair of Oakley sunglasses, or maybe a faucet or something. Maybe we think of design when it comes to cars and clothes and furniture. But smart design can also save thousands of lives every day. Yes, something as seemingly superfluous as “design” can change the world. (Starting with the first tool, taking a detour via the wheel, and fast-forwarding to the millions of things we now take for granted, like the plasma TV, the hybrid automobile, the artificial heart, and even the ubiquitous bottle of Coca Cola.

If you aren’t the humanitarian type and couldn’t care less about saving lives, bear in mind that design can also create entirely new markets. (We just talked about getting there before the herd, so your ears should be perking up just about now.)

How can smart design can create new markets? According to this article in the New York Times entitled “Design That Solves Problems for the World’s Poor” (annoying subscription required):

“A billion customers in the world, are waiting for a $2 pair of eyeglasses, a $10 solar lantern and a $100 house.”

For starters.

That’s something to think about. Not in terms of exploitation, but in terms of wealth and opportunity creation. (The development of the easy-to-use, virtually crunch-proof windup $100 laptop – specifically designed to introduce computers and the internet to 3rd world children – is probably among the most ambitious of these types of endeavors, but also a great example of how we can start to create opportunity in regions of the world in which mere survival is still the order of the day.)

While everyone else is trying to appeal to the richest 10%, maybe, just maybe, the real opportunities are elsewhere. Maybe the time to get into these markets is before they even exist. The seeds are being planted now. The herd is starting to gather. Maybe by the time the market exists and the pastures are green and lush, you’ll find yourself in the back again. Maybe you’ll kick yourself in the butt for not having made a move sooner. (History repeats itself.)

What if you could create one of the most lucrative companies of the 21st century AND save tens of thousands of lives at the same time? What if you really could be enormously successful AND help save the world all in one fell swoop? What if you could have your cake and eat it too?

In this economy, perhaps these are questions worth asking yourself – especially if you are a US or Western European manufacturing company looking for a reason to go on.

Don’t even approach the problem from a humanitarian standpoint if you don’t want to. Approach it from a business standpoint. Here’s the problem you need to solve: 90% of the planet’s population wants something that they probably can’t get very easily. All you have to do is figure out what that is, how much they’re willing to pay for it, and how to get it to them. It could be a mode of transportation. It could be a light source. It could be a sanitary product. It could be food. It could be a garment. It could be knowledge. It could be something as simple as a tougher bicycle wheel. It could be anything.

There is no single answer. There are probably thousands upon thousands. And that’s exciting.

Whatever it is, it could also have applications right here, where the richest 10% of the world population lives and eats and shops 24/7/365.

It might even be a better option than trying to become the next Google.

Food for thought.

So… what are you working on right now?

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Some practical notes on how to design an effective web page – from Seth Godin’s blog, via UX, via Orange Yeti:

  • Ads in the top and left portions of a page will receive the most eye fixation.
  • Ads placed next to the best content are seen more often.
  • Bigger images get more attention.
  • Clean, clear faces in images attract more eye fixation.
  • Fancy formatting and fonts are ignored.
  • Formatting can draw attention.
  • Headings draw the eye.
  • Initial eye movement focuses on the upper left corner of the page.
  • Large blocks of text are avoided.
  • Lists hold reader attention longer.
  • Navigation tools work better when placed at the top of the page.
  • One-column formats perform better in eye-fixation than multi-column formats.
  • People generally scan lower portions of the page.
  • Readers ignore banners.
  • Shorter paragraphs perform better than long ones.
  • Show numbers as numerals.
  • Text ads were viewed mostly intently of all types tested.
  • Text attracts attention before graphics.
  • Type size influences viewing behavior.
  • Users initially look at the top left and upper portion of the page before moving down and to the right.
  • Users only look at a sub headline if it interests them.
  • Users spend a lot of time looking at buttons and menus.
  • White space is good.

Good stuff.

It is easy for company execs to leave the design of their website to IT guys because they “get” all that “computer stuff”. Bad move. Sorry, IT peeps, but while IT guys can be web guys, let me point out that website design goes well beyond a person’s knowledge of code and “computer stuff.”

A good web designer is a designer first and foremost: Someone who understands how to create the right kind of website for a company, and uses his technical knowledge to make it happen. A good web designer can write beautiful code, sure, but great code is meaningless if the website looks horrible or doesn’t serve the needs and wants of its users (your customers). Designing a website is about creating a consistently engaging, pleasant and valuable user experience.

This goes well beyond the world of code and IT. Website design is both a science and an art. Because few people/firms can manage both elements exceedingly well, a very small proportion of web design firms is capable of doing exceptional work.

Look at most corporate websites today, and you will notice that the same templates are used over and over again: There’s a big box of “content” in the middle, a fat banner at the top of the page, a left column with some sort of navigation/menu, and maybe a column to the right with ads and other resources. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: There is value – especially for very small businesses – in spending very little money on a website that can launch inside of a week. Plug & play websites have their place. No question. But when it comes to creating or driving a brand, understand that having a website that essentially looks like everyone else’s, a website that looks like you took little more than a couple of hours to put together, a website that offers nothing interesting or compelling for your users and fans, you are falling short of expectations. You are sending the wrong message. At some point along the way, your company needs to differentiate itself. When that happens, your website needs to reflect the difference between your company and all of your other would-be competitors. If you are going to stand out as being different, don’t just talk about it: stand out and be different – especially on the web.

If your management team is old-school and branding is the last thing on its mind, look at it this way: You are the type of company that takes care of the way it presents itself – from the experience you create for your customers and visitors to the design of your catalogs, ads and other promotional materials. You don’t want to look like a bunch of amateurs who can’t adapt to change and have neither the funds nor the good sense to create a decent website. Right? Right. More and more, your customers’s first impression of you is made via the web. This isn’t 1997 anymore. Your website isn’t an aside. It isn’t something you can throw at your cousin’s neighbor’s kid because he needs a part-time job and “boy, you should see his MySpace!” Your website is your global storefront. Your global lobby. Your global showroom. You can’t afford to allow it to be boring, ineffective or outdated. (It can’t be too obnoxious either, so be use flash sparingly, if at all.)

Do yourself a favor: If you have a website now, put together a small team of branding, marketing and customer service experts in a room with a handful of customers, and get them to do a complete 360 review of your website’s usability. If that doesn’t work for you, hire a creative studio or a web design firm instead. However you decide to do it, the point of the exercise is to stop what you are doing, take a real look at your website, and identify all of the things that could be improved upon. Once you’ve done that, hire a real web designer (or web design firm) to either improve your website as needed or rebuild it completely.

If you don’t already have a website… I just have to ask… what you are waiting for. (Tip: Most people I know haven’t cracked the Yellow Pages in years… and I know a lot of people.)

Spending money on creating an extraordinary web presence (or at least an adequate one) is probably one of the best marketing/communications investments you can make for your company, especially in this economy. If your senior management team doesn’t understand that completely yet, it is your job to help them get there.

If you aren’t sure how to get started, print the above list, go to your company website, and use it as a checklist. How many of your website’s design features match the above recommendations? How many don’t? What could you change already – today?

Have a great Monday, everyone. :)

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engagement by the brandbuilder

Above and below: Some revamped slides from Monday’s presentation. These two companion messages (Engagement and P2P) seem to have resonated with the audience, so I thought I would elaborate on that topic a little.

First: Should companies continue to launch and drive  marketing, advertising, promotional and other types of business development and awareness campaigns?

Yes. Absolutely. No question.

Traditional media “push” strategies and tactics, when developed by the right people and used properly, can be extremely effective. I am a big fan of great campaigns, so keep creating GREAT push campaigns.

But “engagement” – and by that I mean customer engagement (even if those customers are not technically customers yet) – is not a campaign. It isn’t even a strategy. It is a commitment to a being the kind of business that people will want to be a part of and whose products and community people will want to share with friends and family. The kind of business that people  will naturally want to support proactively for years and years.

What we are talking about here has its basis in culture. Call it company culture, corporate culture, management culture… it doesn’t matter. The point is that if your company still refers to itself as a B2B (biz to biz) or a B2C (biz to consumer) company, you are missing the boat. Thin about every great experience you’ve had with a business: Fantastic service at a hotel – where the folks at the desk (and the rest of the staff) makes a point to remember your name. Think of the same kind of service at a restaurant or retail outlet. Think about how you feel about a physician with fantastic bedside vs. a physician who acts like spending any time with you is the chore from hell. Now ask yourself which you would rather be: The business that makes people WANT to come back and recommend you to their friends, or the business that will either fail to be memorable – or worse, give people a reason to find a better option than you next time.

It doesn’t matter if you are a hair salon, car rental company, commercial lender, real estate agent, architectural firm, coffee shop or IT distribution company: Create great experiences based on building relationships with your customers (and your community) and your brand will quickly find itself on the rise.

Fail to do so, and your situation will NEVER improve. No matter how much you lower your prices, no matter how much money you spend on advertising, public relations, call campaigns and promotional incentives, you will still be struggling to get past 5% annual growth (once the economy recovers, that is).

You must learn to become a P2P (people to people) company. Period. There is no other option for you. Not anymore.

Starting with the way you treat your employees – from the way in which you hire, train, mentor and manage them and the words you choose to use around the office (do you refer to your team members as “headcount”?), to the type of relationship you build with the people you do business with.

You are a P2P company, by the brandbuilder

Have a great Weekend, everyone. ;)

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SMC Greenville, Olivier Blanchard

Hey look, it’s me! And a fully stocked bar! (Thanks to Jim O’Donnell for the awesome photo.) More photos from Richard Peck here and here. Awesome.

So… A quick recap: This presentation took place at Greenville, SC’s 2nd monthly Social Media Club meeting early Monday morning.  About 150 people from the Greenville-Anderson-Spartanburg area showed up to enjoy a great breakfast provided by our host (Soby’s Restaurant/Table 301) and hear me talk a little bit about what social media is and isn’t. (Probably more the breakfast, but that’s okay.)

I will be posting the presentation soon, but for now, here are some of the main takeways fom my little show:

It is easy to get bogged down with tools and platforms and technologies when it comes to Social Media. Relax and take a big step back: All we are really talking about here is people talking with people. Remember that.

If we dig a little deeper, we don’t have to go far to see that people are using Social Media to (re)connect with one another, create communities on their own terms, and share what they are passionate about.

Social Media as we define them today may be new, but people have been connecting, creating communities and sharing their interests for thousands of years. We are deeply social creatures. We love to share experiences – food, entertainment, art, stories, etc.

But the complexity of our lives have forced us to disconnect from one another. Greater distances separate us. Our busy schedules make it difficult for us to connect with each other regularly through traditional means.

But we NEED human interactions. We crave them.

Social media help us reconnect in spite of our busy lives.

The relationships people want are meaningful. They are based on affection and trust, from parents at an early age to friends and extended family as we grow into adulthood, and eventually outward still to our community.

Compare these meaningful relationships with the relationship you have with an outsourced cstomer service rep or a disengaged salesperson. Sharp contrast, right? Question: Can meaningful relationships be created through outsourced labor?

Question: If – as a business – you understand the importance/value of creating meaningful relationships with your customers, why shove your customers away to call centers and disengaged employees? How does that work?

What if you could turn angry customers into your greatest advocates? What if you made it your mission?

What if you invited these customers to call you back regularly to let you know how things are going?  (Start a conversation with them. Engage with them. Foster a relationship. Twitter is good for that.)

As a company, ask yourself what role you play in your customers’ lives today:Are you their partner in crime (in a good way) or are you just selling them stuff?

Communities: Knowing where we belong is as important as knowing how we belong.

Individuals are hard to hear. Communities are much louder.

People want their opinions to matter. They want to be heard. When companies refuse to listen, they build walls between themselves and the communities around them.

Not listening (to your customers) is expensive. It makes you ignorant and isolated.

How can you know what people are saying about you outside your walls if you aren’t out there listening?

How are you monitoring you reputation?

Listening makes you relevant.

Listening makes you part of a community. (So listen!)

Not Listening = Disconnected. Listening = feedback, insight and metrics (use tools like Radian6).

As people grow increasingly connected (via social media), companies are losing their ability to influence behaviors via traditional means and media channels.

The era of the monologue is dead.

In the US alone, people are exposed to 500-3000 commercial messages per day. PER DAY!!!

And the ROI of the most obvious advertising channel (TV) is estimated to be 1-4%. (Not exactly stellar.)

Meanwhile, recommendations by family members, loved ones and peers are extremely sticky. People turn to people they trust to help them discover products and make purchasing decisions. In other words:

People are increasingly tuning companies out, and tuning in to each other instead.

Traditional Media alone increasingly expensive and less and less effective. Social media can complement traditional media: Add relevance, authenticity and stickiness.

Q: What is the most important thing a business can do for itself? A: Create happy, loyal customers.

Engagement is not a campaign.

This conversation is not about Social Media adoption. It is about transforming the way you think about your business: You are not a B2B or a B2C company. You are a P2P company (people to people).

You must create ways to enhance or improve your customers’ experience in a way that matters. One way to put this into action is to ask yourself how do I get my customers to want to recommend us to their mother or child or best friend?

Ask yourself: How would you do business if your CEO suddenly decided that you could no longer advertise? What would you do? How would you engage with your customers?

More notes from the presentation tomorrow. ;)

You can also follow some of the Twitter threads at #smcgville and #smcgreenville.

smc-greenville

Thanks again to SMC Greenville for having asked me to speak at their event this month. It was truly an honor.

I want to send out a very special thanks to Richard Peck, Table 301 and the awesome staff of Soby’s restaurant for being such gracious hosts.

Kind thanks also to Business Black Box for covering the event with their video crew.

And most of all, HUGE THANKS to everyone who got up at the crack of way too early on a Monday to come listen to me speak. I was truly overwhelmed by the interest, kindness and enthusiasm you all brought with you. Pretty unreal. I’m glad to have met even more incredible folks this week, as well as seeing so many familiar faces. Orange Coat’s Bear Gautsch was there (did I also see Jimmy C?), Brains on Fire’s Robbin Phillips, Geno Church and Spike Jones were there along with Bounce’s John McDermott… Bobby Rettew, Doug Cone, Jon Evans, Amy Wood, Trey Pennington of course… And I hear that someone even drove all the way from Columbia! (Whomever you are, shoot me a note. I definitely want to meet you next time you’re in Greenville.) The list is waaaaaaaaaaaaay too long for me to go on, so I’ll stop here. Thanks for coming, everyone. :)

What a great way to start the week!

Greenville Social Media Club - Olivier Blanchardphoto by Doug Cone (@nullvariable)

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socmed0ne1001

Come listen to me speak about Brands, Social Media and how to turn your business into an engine of ass-kickery Monday, February 9, 2009 at Soby’s on Main Street in downtown Greenville. (And yeah, I’ll even let you pick my brain a little bit.)

We’ll have delicious Soby’s coffee and pastries ready at 7:15am and will begin our meeting at 7:30am, ending at 8:30am.

I know 7:15 is CRAZY early, especially on a Monday – ugh… – but look at it this way:

a) You won’t be late getting to work (for once)

b) You will start your week pumped up and full of fresh insights

c) Breakfast at Soby’s. Come on. What? Seriously. What better way to start your day?

d) Dancing bears, sock puppets, clowns and me. LIVE. How often do you get to actually see me speak in front of a live audience? You can’t beat that.

Cost is $5.00.

For directions, click here.

Sign up / reserve your spot now. Click here.

See you there!

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Grand Central terminal, NYC - photo by Olivier Blanchard

Forget Twitter. Twitter is completely irrelevant. What we are really talking about here is a community.

Fact: It would appear that I am completely addicted to Twitter.

Also a fact: I couldn’t care less about Twitter. Twitter is a means to an end. A tool. A platform. Nothing more.

Fact #3: What may appear to be a Twitter addiction is in fact a community addiction. Or rather a love affair with conversations, sprinkled with a penchant for establishing appropriately meaningful connections with people (many of whom I might not otherwise have the pleasure to meet or share ideas with).

So before I go any further, the distinction between the box called Twitter and the magic that goes on inside it needs to be super clear.

Right about now, you are probably asking yourself… why are we talking about Twitter? What is it with this addiction? Can we pleeeeease move on to a topic we care about? And I hear ya. I really do. But I feel compelled to clear this up once and for all if I can, with this little post. (Yeah. As if. You know me: ever the optimist.)

In truth, this post – or rather the idea behind it – came from Spike Jones’ rant this week about Twitter. Normally, Spike’s piece would have prompted a 30,000 character comment, but it occurred to me that the topic deserved its very own post. (That, and I figured that Brains On Fire’s servers would probably appreciate my not taking up 3 gig of space for nothing.)

So anyway… To understand where I am coming from with this post, go read Spike’s piece first, then come back here for further consideration on the topic. Here’s the link. Hurry back.

..

.

Welcome back! I’m glad you took the time to read Spike’s opinions – and if you haven’t done so already, be sure to add BoF’s blog to your RSS reader or blogroll. It’s always a good read.

Now… Spike and I have grown to be good friends throughout the years, and we see eye to eye on most things. I have a lot of respect for him and the folks at BoF – who also  happen to be in the 864, by the way. So a) I don’t intend to bash anyone or trash any of his opinions here, and b) you may be surprised to hear that I actually agree with most of the things Spike brings up in his post. That being said, I have a slightly different opinion of Twitter and feel the need to come to its rescue if just a little.

Let’s go over some of what Spike brings up in his post so everyone is on the same page:

Your Twitter is not my Twitter: Ask 25 people what they use Twitter for and you’ll get 25 different answers. Some use it to keep up with friends. Some use it to find inspiration. Some to find knowledge. Some for mindless thoughts. Some just for fun. And some for none of the above.

Absolutely.

Twitter is not a popularity contest: It’s SO EASY to get caught up in the “number of followers” game. Addictive, even. But who really cares? It’s not about how many people you can get to follow you. Any monkey (or bot) for that matter, can go out and follow 10,000 people and mindlessly they’ll get 4,000 followers back. It’s quality – not quantity.

Again. Right on.

If you’re on Twitter all day long, I really start to wonder how you get your job done. Seriously. If you’re updating 45 times an hour, I’m thinking to myself, “Doesn’t this guy have a job?” Or if you’re constantly Tweeting after hours I’m thinking, “Doesn’t this guy have a family?”

That’s fair. As a Twitter power user, I get those kinds of questions often. Truly being on Twitter all day long is pretty-much impossible unless you are a) jobless, b) hopelessly addicted, c) wealthy enough to hire folks to tweet for you, and/or d) paid to tweet.

The next best thing to being plugged in to the Twitter stream 24/7 is to use a service like TweetDeck (or even Radian6) that notifies you when someone addresses a tweet to you directly or talks about something you are interested in. Kind of like IM or an email. Same thing. Also, categorizing key tweeps in specific groups helps you filter content in a snap. It doesn’t take long to figure out how to integrate Twitter into your multitasking routine. Everyone has a method. It may not seem like it, but I sometimes go a day or two without tweeting if I am busy. Lately, I have settled into a schedule that severely limits my access to Twitter until mid-afternoon. Being self-employed helps. Having a plan and knowing how to manage a schedule/workload well helps even more. Being able to filter Twitter conversations quickly (with the help of TweetDeck) can also mean the difference between a day wasted on Twitter and a healthy balance of work and insightful conversations.

The key is finding a balance that works for you. That balance is different from person to person. Some people watch TV. Others read. Others do crossword puzzles or play World of Warcraft. And some do it all with twitter streaming in the background. As a guy with a crazy schedule, a job that doesn’t stop at 5pm or on Friday, a triathlon training regimen AND a family, I still manage to blend Twitter into the mix without it getting in the way, so it can be done. ;)

Twitter isn’t for everyone or every comany. There are people running around literally badgering companies, politicians and whomever will listen that they should be on Twitter. First of all, companies need a strategy before they are on Twitter and secondly, it just doesn’t make sense for some companies to be on there – because their customers aren’t on there. So whenever someone tells you that they are a Twitter expert you have two options: 1) Laugh your ass off or 2) smile politely, turn and walk away.

True: Twitter isn’t for everyone or every company. But rememberwhat I startedthis post with? The whole twitter is just a box and the real value is in the community thing? Yeah. That. Forget Twitter for a second. Forget the very name, and look at it as a community. Heck, look at it as overlapping microcommunities, even. When I look at Twitter, I see mothers, fathers, bakers, auto mechanics, CEOs, CMO’s, recruiters, teachers, military folks, graphic designers, dog lovers, athletes, foodies, musicians, restaurateurs, web developers, students, doctors, etc. Ergo: I see people.

No wait… I see people talking to other people. I see people making friends. Sharing ideas. Recommending products. Asking questions. Answering them. I see people helping each other. I see people creating value for themselves and for others.

In my very humble but professional opinion, there is TREMENDOUS value in that.  And as Twitter continues to grow in popularity and usage (let’s not forget that Twitter is also a mobile phone app, not just a computer app), that value will grow exponentially.

Now… if you look at Twitter purely as a channel – like YouTube, NBC, a blog or a specific NING community, you’re right. At little more than a million active users, Twitter is a pretty low ROI channel. Most people aren’t on it yet, so Twitter’s reach is still way too small to matter. True.

If you look at it that way, then yes: Anyone preaching Twitter to companies may seem like a lunatic or a fraud.

But remember: Quality over quantity. Meaningful over transitory. Personal connections over automated customer service processes. For a great example, look at what Jet Blue is doing with Twitter (sample tweets from the @jetblue stream):

@foodmomiac head to the North concourse at T5 – it tends to be a bit quieter over there for phone calls.

Travel Tip Tuesday: Slip on shoes make the trip through TSA faster – and it’s good to stretch your feet on a long flight.

Winter weather in the Northeast may cause delays or cancellations. For your flight’s status, go to http://www.jetblue.com/flig…

@shaxxon Sorry but you may still need to set your DVR – We’ve got 36 channels of @DIRECTV but ABC isn’t one of them.

Yes @danwebbage. Daily flights between JFK and Montego Bay, Jamaica begin May 21st. I may need to do a “work trip” for onsite coverage!

@Jonnelle Have no fear, we’ll continue complimentary snacks and beverages. These options are for those who want something more substantial

@gregverdino When were your flights? – we are waiving change fees for customers traveling through NY Metro area tomorrow: http://is.gd/Pjg

Travel Tip Tuesday: Beware of viral WiFi SSIDs. If you see “Jet Blue hot spot” not “JetBlue Hotspot” check further http://is.gd/hocL

@alexsteed what flight number? – follow us and I can get back to you with info.

@sarahbuhr Travel destination packages you ask? Take a gander at our Getaways: http://jetblue.com/getaways

Any Pittsburgh folks thinking about a trip to Tampa? Just for you we’ve got a direct PIT-TPA on Jan 29th and 30th and two back on Feb 2nd

@schvin Unless acting as a documented service animal, pets must be fit in a carrier with combined weight less than 20lbs http://is.gd/fI3x

How cool is that: Jet Blue essentially uses Twitter as a free concierge service. And a friendly one at that. This is an airline, for crying outloud. An airline!!! :D If even an airline can figure out how to enhance their customers’ experience with twitter, surely a retailer can. Or a restaurant. Or a car rental company. Or a realtor. Or a politician. Or a hospital system.

We’re only scratching the surface here.

The beauty of Twitter is that it is a) 100% opt-in and opt-out, and b) an all-purpose destination: a) We use it on our terms if and when we want to, from any device – portable or not. b) Twitter is Twitter. I don’t have to look for a website or a blog. I don’t have to hunt down the right url or rss. I dont have to search or click through a menu to find the right page. It’s simple. It does all the work for me. It’s a single destination for every topic or type of connection. Just follow whomever you want, let it do all the work, and engage at will.

And unlike most websites and toll-free numbers, a) the person on the other end responds pretty quickly, and b) they usually aren’t outsourced. There’s something to be said for that on both counts.

Twitter and Politics

Now… to address Spike’s question about whether or not politicians should use Twitter, again, let’s erase Twitter from the thought process: The real question is should politicians engage in live conversations with the people they represent? (Regardless of the medium, platform or tool.) In my opinion, yes. Absolutely. Is Twitter the most appropriate tool for the job? Maybe not. But used in concert with other tools, yes, Twitter can be extremely effective – not only around election time, but every day – or every week – as time permits and the situation demands. Ultimately, the level of involvement a politician has with their constituents is their choice. I can only voice a personal opinion on the matter. I won’t make a judgment call on that one. I certainly won’t fault anyone who supports the creation of new (and direct) avenues of communications between public officials and voters who expect to have their representative’s ear.

Influence, reach and rankings

And last but not least:

The other tangent on this is TwitterGrader and the rest of those “graders” – they’re gimmicks people. If you’re goal is to be in the top 10 in the city, state, nation or world on TwitterGrader, you have my sympathies.

Awwww. Come on Spike. :D

There are graders for everything. AdAge has its Power 150. Mack Collier’s Viral Garden has its Top 25 list. Technorati ranks blogs by category also. Everywhere you turn is some kind of ranking system. A Top 10 list. A Top 25 or 50 or 100 list. It’s human nature to a) be competitive, and also to gauge everything’s relevance through popularity contests.

Is Britney Spears more relevant than you or I because she has over 13,000 followers on Twitter? I don’t know. I guess to those 13,000+ people, she is. You and I may not like it, but it’s a fact that popularity and relevance are subjective.

In the eye of the beholder, as one might say.

Regardless of the quality of your content, reach does equal influence. If I can reach 3,000 people daily with my advice, then 5,000 is better. Not because of latent ego trips, but because I reallywant to try and help (influence, if you will) as many people in the business world as I can.

Likewise, if growing my crowdsourcing pool to 2,000 people helps me find twenty great sources of information or insight daily, then perhaps increasing that pool to 3,000 people will speed up the process. There is value in that for me, and I have adequate filters in place that allow me to sift through that much info without getting a headache over it.

Whether we like it or not, being ranked in the Top 10, 25, 50 or 100 in any category can be a powerful thing. False humility aside, it does feel good to discover that you are ranked somehow, somewhere. It generally means that a number of people find value in what you are doing, and that always feels good. Beyond the pat on the back thing, it’s also a peer-based validation of your contribution, performance or value. Nothing wrong with that either. From a more pragmatic standpoint, being #1 or in the Top 100 in your city, state, country – or in the world can help validate your position in an industry or authority on a topic. (I said help validate. Popularity or rankings are not an indication of anything on their own.) Still, for businesses and consultants, that sort of thing can make a huge difference.

Just like I don’t see anything wrong with folks training hard to make their way into the top 10 in their age group at a local triathlon, I don’t see anything wrong with people working hard to boost their Twitter rankings. If that’s their trip, why not? I see no harm in it. In a way – depending on why they use Twitter – learning how to increase their relevance and influence there could be a good thing, right? Kind of like boosting website rankings with search engines, driving traffic to a blog or driving attendance to a conference? When you take a step back, it’s really all the same thing. If someone just wants to use Twitter to chat with people, great. If part of their goal is to increase their relevance with a certain portion of the Twittersphere, that’s great too. To each their own.

What’s to ‘get’ of not to ‘get’?

If folks don’t “get” Twitter, that’s okay. Months ago, I tried to get my brother to start using Twitter so I could feel closer to him. I figured that if he tweeted about going to the market or watching a soccer game on TV or working on a website, I wouldn’t feel like he was so far away. (He lives on Reunion island, so we don’t see each other very often.) His response after he took a look at Twitter was “Why would I want the world to know every time I take a crap?”

Clearly, he wasn’t in a frame of mind conducive to a rewarding Twitter experience. (It’s okay, we still have Skype.) The point being that he doesn’t “get” Twitter, and that’s okay. My parents aren’t on Twitter either. Neither are most people I know. No big deal. To me, it’s like people who don’t see the point of ever watching a Star Wars or James Bond movie. They just don’t see the value of it, and I guess I just have to shrug and let them live their lives the way they want to live their lives. Are they missing much? Maybe. Maybe not. Who am I to say?

With some of these folks, it’s a non-issue. With others, it becomes part of who they are: A sort of badge of honor. Not having ever seen a Bond flick is something that becomes more than just… not having seen a Bond flick. It’s a line in the sand. I know people who absolutely refuse to walk into a Starbucks or get behind the wheel of a Ford or leave the United States. My mother refuses to learn how to use email. One of my neighbors thinks that computers and the internet are a complete waste of time. I know a guy who swears that he will never own a cell phone. Okay. Who cares. Your life, your rules, right?

Over time, some of these people’s attitudes eventually shift from being neutral about their opt-out strategy to being negative and critical about the cultural object they refuse to participate in – probably in an attempt to defend or validate their decision. I don’t get it, but it’s okay. The beauty of it is, I don’t have to get it. It’s just the way it is and I am 100% okay with that. Not everyone gets Twitter. Not everyone wants to see a Bond flick. Not everyone wants to own a computer or eat grilled fish or travel to Europe. I shrug and move on. It doesn’t make people any less intelligent, relevant or worth hanging out with. Our differences shouldn’t divide us after all.

Just like some people scratch their heads when they see runners or cyclists glide by on a Saturday morning, some people look at Twitter with an equal measure of curious amusement and annoyance: What’s the point. Where’s the value. Why would you waste time chatting to strangers on Twitter. Don’t you have better things to do. How in the world can something like this help a business. Why would I want the world to know everything I do. I guess if you have to ask, don’t worry about it. If you don’t see the value in it, don’t force it. Nothing says that you have to use Twitter or be on Facebook or LinkedIn. Who cares? If you don’t feel that it’s for you, it’s okay. Really. We won’t hold it against you. It won’t make you uncool or anything. Different strokes for different folks.

Those of us who do get it however, those of us who see the potential, who have been creating conversations and engaging with (and in some cases building) communities will continue to use Twitter to connect people with one another – and to establish these connections for ourselves in the process. We will continue to expand each other’s networks, brain trusts and talent banks. You can frown at us, scoff at us, even shake your fingers at what may seem like bizarre behavior sometimes, but the simple fact is that we of the Twitter world are simply connectors: We create connections between people, businesses, ideas, skills and value sets. It’s part of the way we operate. We were doing it before Twitter (BT) and we will still be doing it (hopefully better) long after Twitter is but a faint memory (AT).

I’ve already rambled way too much, but if you will allow me one last bit of wisdom/advice/commentary/wrap-up, here it is: Don’t get sucked into conversations about tools and platforms and apps. What we are really talking about here is people talking and connecting with people. Twitter in comparison is absolutely, completely, utterly irrelevant to the conversation. Don’t get sucked into Twitter sucks vs. Twitter rocks argument. We might as well be arguing over the color of the microphones used by the United Nations. Totally worthless. Let’s try and move beyond that.

For another take on the subject, check out Doug Cone’s piece on this very topic – also prompted by Spike’s post. Check it out here.

Have a great Thursday, everyone.

PS: Spike, nothing but love, brother. I’m buying the next round. ;D

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pho4me-desert

The story of your relationship with your customers should read like what’s going on in Pho’s photo (above):

You found each other in the wilderness.

You connected in some way.

You liked where things went from there.

You made music together.

You had a great time.

You became part of each other’s worlds.

If you and your customers aren’t dancing, if you aren’t making music together, if you aren’t truly part of each other’s worlds, you should probably be asking yourself why.

Fact: You may be selling to customers, but you are still not connecting with people.

Reinvent the way you do business.

Get back to basics.

Get back to handshakes, smiles and conversations.

Get back to knowing your customers, not just knowing about them.

If your business isn’t touching people’s lives in a meaningful, memorable, deeply human way, your resources are being wasted on ineffective “business processes” – and the only thing you are developing is your own expensive demise.

Banks. Hospitals. Grocery stores. Software companies. Equipment manufacturers. Airlines. Retail spaces. Taxi cabs. Wireless providers. Repair shops. Restaurants. Hotels. PR firms. Universities. Manufacturers. Distributors. It doesn’t matter what industry or type of business you are. This applies to each and every one of you.

Tear down the walls, walk out into the world, and dance.

That is all. ;)

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Rock, by Olivier Blanchard

“Individuals behave in a difficult manner because they have learned that doing so keeps others off balance and incapable of effective action. Worst of all, they appear immune to all the usual methods of
communication and persuasion designed to convince or help them change their ways.”
- Robert Bramson, Ph.D.

I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to figure out why some people are so vehemently opposed to change, progress or new ideas that they will exert more energy fighting them than embracing them. I am sorry to hear that so many of you are dealing with this. I don’t have a lot of advice to give you there, except this:

Far be it from me to suggest that every new idea and every bit of change is positive. Success, after all, is more often than not the result of countless failures – some calculated, others not. I completely understand how and why intelligent professionals would (and should) be suspicious of new ideas. Due diligence does play a significant role in effectively adopting new ideas and making them work. No question.

But some people resist change no matter what. These are not people who take the time to analyze a new idea or concept, run scenarios, try to figure out contingencies, look for lateral opportunities, and get around potential pitfalls along the way. These are just difficult people who enjoy being roadblocks.

Perhaps it makes them feel important: If they can’t actually be agents of change, at least they can be agents of un-change.

Maybe it’s all one big ego trip. A passive-aggressive power play.

Maybe it’s just that making sure that things don’t change defaults to predictability in their professional ecosystem, and predictability equals security. The less you change, the less you rock the boat, the safer you are.

Which makes sense when you realize that people who tend to become human roadblocks have made a career out of doing essentially nothing. (Doing something is what their staff is for.) There can only be security in doing nothing when the alternative (doing something) can be sold to senior management as a high-risk, low reward proposition.

Maybe it’s a little bit of everything: Laziness, insecurity, ego. You name it.
One thing is certain: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Human roadblocks are wired to be the way they are. No amount of logic, enthusiasm or even authority will change them. Or move them, for that matter.
Just like speed bumps, they are there to stay. Just like speed bumps, you have to slow down when you get close to one of them. And just like speed bumps, they’re pretty easy to roll over or get around once you have a clear view of where you want to go.
The thing about human roadblocks is that they don’t go anywhere. Come back in ten years, they’ll still be exactly where they are, doing the same damn thing. Maybe some of you can take some solace in that.
So my advice to you today is this: Don’t go mistaking speed bumps for 500 foot cliffs. They’re just speed bumps. Just keep doing what you are doing, and don’t let anyone stop you from getting the job done.
If you are clearly outnumbered, however… run like hell. ;D

Regardless of whom at work is giving you a rough time, have a great Monday.

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Peter Diana / Post-Gazette

Mike Tomlin. Photo: Peter Diana / Post-Gazette

Mike Tomlin: The youngest coach to win a SuperBowl.

This is what I like to see: Management empowering dynamic new voices to lead.

To every football team, school district, board of directors, Senior VP, CEO and CMO: Next time you overlook the visionary kid with new ideas, remember this face.

Tell me he was the easy choice. Tell me he wasn’t the gamble. Tell me you wouldn’t have hired someone with more “proven” experience. Someone with a more impressive resume. Someone with a bit more seniority. Someone with more wins.

You would have been wrong.

Alexander the Great wasn’t a graying battle-hardened General when he conquered Persia.  Bill Gates wasn’t a Wharton MBA with twenty years of executive corporate experience when he started Microsoft.

Empower visionary leaders no matter how new and how young they may be. Mentor them if you must, but do not stand in their way. Do not tell them no. Do not tell them once you’ve been here twenty years, we’ll talk about it.

The Steelers made a choice. A difficult, risky choice. And it paid off.

In truth, these are the kinds of choices that almost always pay off.

So my question to you is… what kinds of leaders is your organization producing?

It’s an important question. One that could very well decide whether or not your company succeeds or fails in the next decade. Maybe even in the next year.

Give it some thought. Serious thought.

Welcome to a whole new work week. ;)

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