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Archive for July, 2009

“Making it work” : Lessons from the real world of “do or die.”

Sometimes, even the best laid plans just go awry.

Call them cliche, but those sayings about finding the silver lining and making lemonade when life hands you lemons, they aren’t just hot air.

When I was in the French Fusiliers Marins, the unspoken motto, the underlying mission imperative was always “make it work.”

The intelligence is wrong? It doesn’t matter. Make it work.

The insertion routes are compromised? It doesn’t matter. Make it work.

You got dropped 15 miles off target? It doesn’t matter. Make it work.

Nobody ever had to say it. Nobody ever had to bark the order. From day one of training, it was pounded into us:

Make it work.

Make it happen.

Find a way.

(If you don’t, people will die.)

The first officer I served under, 1st Lieutenant Rannou, had a saying: “There are no problems. Only solutions.”

He was right.

Sometimes, everything just clicks and works perfectly the first time. You don’t have to do a thing. You might as well be on autopilot: From start to finish, your project, your law suit, your surgery, your product launch, your hostage rescue mission, your ad campaign, your theater production, it all goes well. The planets are aligned. The cosmos is on your side. Everything goes so smoothly that you wonder if you aren’t dreaming.

Most of the time though, things don’t go your way. The unexpected happens. Gremlins. Ghosts in the machine. Flies in the soup. Whatever. The cosmos has a way of throwing obstacles your way at the most inopportune times.

That’s just a given.

A butterfly beats its wings in Buenos Aires, and a week later, your stamp machines in Taiwan are down for a month.

A health crisis in East Africa forces the cargo ship carrying the first shipment of your brand new product to spend three extra weeks at sea.

Your new boss is an self-serving imbecile.

Or in the case of teammate Jay Hewitt (photo above), you lay your bike down going 30mph at mile 51 of a Half-Ironman distance triathlon.

What do you do?

No… really. What do you do?

Murphy’s law isn’t an anecdote. It’s an engine of predictability. Use it.

Let me take a quick break from the full list of mishaps and just say that – in case you hadn’t guessed – skin + gritty pavement + speed don’t feel great.

Imagine getting thrown out of a car moving at 30mph, wearing nothing but your underwear.

Not fun.

Now imagine brushing yourself off, getting back on your bike, finishing the ride as fast as you can, switching out the cartridge in your insulin pump, and then completing a very fast half marathon.

Why? Because no matter what happens, there’s still a finish line to cross. A reputation to preserve. A project to complete. A movie to finish shooting. A new product to launch. An essential part to manufacture.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a military officer, a product manager, a movie director, a chef, a fashion designer, a newspaper editor or a CMO. This is something you can be absolutely certain of: Though sometimes, everything will click and flow smoothly as if by divine intervention, most of the time, obstacle after obstacle will get between you and your goal.

Call it Murphy’s Law. Call it whatever you want. It’s just life.

And in real life, shit happens. No matter what you do, something almost always goes wrong.

The more complicated or ambitious your endeavor, the more likely it is that obstacles will find a way to get between you and that golden finish line. Expect that. Plan for it. Train for it.

Heck, embrace it.

You might as well.

Still, I notice that most people freak out when their plan goes awry. They panic. They lose their cool. They suddenly find themselves feeling… lost. They make everything come to a grinding halt while they regroup.

Why?

Poor planning. Lack of training. They didn’t take the time to plan for failure. They didn’t think to come up with contingency plans.

Most of the time though, it just comes down to one simple thing: Lack of experience.

So for those of you who don’t quite know how to manage cool, crazy, ambitious projects, here’s a little bit of advice:

The Ten Basic Rules of Project Management

Rule #1: Never expect things to work right the first time. (If they do, great.  Just don’t expect them to.)

Rule #2: Expect everything to take at least twice as long as you know they should.

Rule #3: Expect the unexpected.

Rule #4: When everything is going well, worry. (You probably missed something.)

Rule #5: Find out what doesn’t work before your customers do. (That’s what prototypes are for.)

Rule #6: You learn more from how and why a product fails than how and why it works the way you expect it to. (So push your prototypes to failure as often and in as many different ways as possible.)

Rule #7: “Design By Committee” never works.

Rule #8: Trust your instincts.

Rule #9: Listen to the people who will use your product. Their opinion matters more than anyone else’s.

Rule #10: Have fun.

Why experience matters: A simple list.

Back to Jay: Jay has crashed in races before. Jay knows how broken bones feel. Jay knows that even with no skin on his shoulder, he can keep racing. He’s been there. He’s done that. He has already faced and concquered pretty-much every obstacle in the book when it comes to endurance racing. As a result, when problems happen, his resolution time is almost instantaneous. He doesn’t have to spend thirty minutes wondering if he’s badly hurt or just in pain. He doesn’t have to seek professional advice. He doesn’t have to weigh the pros and cons of anything. Knowing where he stands allows him to make the right decision in the blink of an eye: Keep going.

Experience builds confidence. Experience breeds forethought and insight. Experience takes doubt, uncertainty, and fear out of the equation. Jay knows that if he crashes, he can probably still finish the race. He knows how to fix a flat. He knows how to repair a broken chain. He knows a dozen ways to fix problems on his bike or with his body, and the ones he doesn’t know how to fix, he can probably improvise if need be.

There are no problems. Only solutions.

Simple enough.

More often than not, projects that appear to have gone smoothly from the outside didn’t go smoothly at all. Every day brought a new hurdle. Hundreds of fires had to be put out. Thousands of split-second decisions had to be made. Course adjustments. Quick fixes. A folder-full of improvised solutions. Personel changes. Vendor replacements. Timeline adjustments. Budget attrition. Whatever. The list never stops growing.

That’s how it really works.

Perfect illustration: Below is Jay at the finish. From the right side, he looks fine. His injuries are out of sight. He looks like a guy who just breezed through a Half Ironman the way most of us breeze through a Taco bell drivethrough.

To an outsider, a bystander, he had a flawless, fun race.

To someone with inside knowledge, he finished despite a horrible bike accident that could have cost him a whole lot more than another medal.

He crashed. He got up. He quickly assessed the situation. He got back on his bike. He finished the race. He added the experience to his knowledge bank.

He made it happen.

If that doesn’t perfectly illustrate the way a project is driven forward, I don’t know what does.


Project manager. Triathlete. Adventure Racer. Creative Director. Platoon Leader. Customer Service Rep. Design Engineer. Toolmaker. Sous-Chef. Football Coach. It’s all the same.

Project/Program Managers are wired differently. Hire and promote with that in mind.

Great project managers aren’t just natural multi-taskers. They’re also natural strategic masterminds. Improvisation kings (and queens). Crisis jugglers. Fearless creative acrobats. Their job (their nature) is to constantly find and implement solutions to problems, foreseen and not. Their job is to embrace hurdles and obstacles, because each one brings them one step closer to their goal. They thrive on making things happen. The more untraveled the road, the better. The more complex the gameboard, the better.

It takes a special kind of person to be able to a) do that kind of work well, and b) love every minute of it.

It isn’t for everybody.

Excuses and blame don’t exist in our little world. Neither does bullshit. At the end of the day, there’s only what you did and what you didn’t do.

Sometimes, even the best laid plans just go awry.

For most people, that’s not a good thing…

…and for some of us, that’s when the real fun begins. (And we do like our fun.)

Have a great weekend, everyone. :)

(Hat tip to Tamsen McMahon/@tamadear at Sametz Blackstone for pointing out that this should be a manifesto and not a primer)

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In case you’re going to be near Charlotte, NC on August 24th, you might want to add this to your calendar.

I will be presenting on Social Media R.O.I. (the real thing, including the method) and answering questions, so it might be worth the road trip. Not just blog posts, not just videos but the big live show. And it’ll be the first time I show this stuff to a crowd all in one go, so it should be interesting. If you haven’t registered yet, go here.

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It happens every single year: Sometime between mid-July and mid-August, my posting rate drops considerably. You can almost set your calendars to it. I struggle with this a bit, as my contributions to this and other blogs are pretty important to me, but year after year, I find myself falling into the same pattern: One post per week- maybe two – is about all I seem to manage.

Possible reasons for this annual phenomenon:

1. Summer: The days are long. The sun is warm. I spend as much time outside as I can, which in my world means running and cycling for hours on end at a pretty high level of exertion. When I finally drag my salty tired body home, the last thing I want to do is spend more energy thinking about writing a post, much less reading and writing. My priorities are (not necessarily in that order) food, drink, shower, rest, QT with the family.

In the winter, when it is way too cold and dark for me to go ride my bike for three hours after work, I come home energized and ready to write 30,000 word daily.

2. Frenchness: The French take the summer off. I am French. The slowdown usually hits the week leading to Bastille Day. Draw your own conclusions. (This could be genetic.)

3. Creative cycles and summer writing projects: My need to write shifts genres cyclically. I go through extremely prolific blogging periods. I also go through very creative periods. While the two often overlap, there are times in the year when they are diametrically opposed. This is such a time. Do I want to write? Yes. Am I writing? Yes. Does this writing have anything to do with the brandbuilder blog? Nope.

4. Blogging self doubt: Some people occasionally take my posts out of context and take offense to them. It usually happens in the warmer months for whatever reason. Believe it or not, that doesn’t make my day, especially when I didn’t mean anything by the posts in question. An hefty daily dose of hate mail from people whose feelings I didn’t mean to hurt makes me want to take a step back and take a break for a few weeks. (Though this year, this hasn’t happened yet.)

5. Summer movies. Wolverine. Terminator. Star Trek. Bruno. Harry Potter. Transformers. Not all good, but all must be attended and watched. This takes time and neurons.

6. W.O.R.K. Traveling in July and almost every week in August + Working so much I don’t have a minute to myself during the day. Nuff said.

7. Kids are out of school. I do stuff with them. It’s fun. Blogging can wait.

8. Yard work. House work. (No matter how much I try to neglect them, plants grow. Grass and weeds fall into that category.) Projects abound. I need a gardener and a contractor. (I really don’t have time for this stuff… and don’t enjoy it all that much.)

9. Photo shoots. Love them. Hate them. Either way, they take up a lot of time and energy. Clients like summer photo shoots for their fall season.

10. Maybe there’s just less going on. Less to talk and write about – at least in the marketing and brand development worlds this time of year.

11. Le Tour de France.

Whatever the reasons may be (all of the above,) no worries, the slowdown you may have noticed recently is normal. It happens every year. Enjoy the light blogging over the next few weeks, read less of what I have to say and go experience the world more.  (Yes, out there in the sun with big wide open skies and fresh air, not inside a climate-controled room with artificial light.) I’m not going anywhere, I’m just slacking off the pace a little bit.

No worries, things will get back to normal any day now. ;)

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Today is Bastille Day – which is how the rest of the world calls France’s “Fete Nationale,” or simply “le 14 Juillet.”

This day in 1789, the people of Paris stormed the Bastille (Louis XVI’s political prison) and started down a road that eventually led to France becoming a Republic, just a few short years after the United States of America. And though the government of France doesn’t always side with US foreign policy, France and the United States have been staunch allies for well over two centuries.

So feel free to eat a croissant or two today, wear a beret, pop open a nice bottle of Bordeaux, and even watch the Tour De France. It’s all good.

Joyeux Anniversaire, Republique Francaise. I miss not being there for your birthday anymore.

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Via Amber Naslund (@ambercadabra) on Twitter yesterday – This (posted on mashable) is not the way to go about hiring an experienced Social Media Practitioner to get a practice up and running:

NEEDED IMMEDIATELY: INTELLIGENT SOCIAL MEDIA CONSULTANT:
Intelligent Social Media Consultant to support a consumer PR agency based in NYC. You will not be working in-house – so you must be willing to be on call for a flat, monthly retainer fee.

The most necessary requirement of this position – is an ability to create in-depth Social Media proposals with an eye towards driving a PR campaign, then helping those proposals to be executed – either through your own technical expertise, or by appropriately functioning as a Project Manager. Examples of your writing and previous proposals are required.

SKILL-REQUIREMENTS:
• Knowing your trade, if you’re not 100% up-to-date on the latest and greatest tools for social media (including Facebook corporate pages, Twitter, and Social Media News Releases, just to name a few examples), please do not apply.
• You need to understand the world of PR, and how it can translate to Social Media. We want you to know great examples of successful PR/social media campaigns, what a company’s competitors are doing, and how we can replicate that to create similar success stories.
• Must have: first-rate writing skills
• Must have: ability to consistently generate creative ideas for corporate clients and explain those ideas in-depth, in writing, and in a proposal
• Must be willing and able: to create multiple proposals in a week if necessary
• You must be willing to attend on-site corporate client meetings when necessary
• You must be detail oriented and quantitative (you will be called on to perform Social Media Audits, for example
• You must understand Social Media metrics – (we are always asked to show an ROI to clients, you need to not only have creative ideas but also have the skill to know how to measure the campaigns you help us to create)

Our PR campaigns draw on the full arsenal of Social Media tools, and for the purpose of the proposals you create for us and for the campaigns you oversee, you will need strong resources and up-to-the-minute industry knowledge to execute: Twitter feeds (and Corporate Twitter Feeds), Facebook (Corporate), Myspace (Corporate), Blogs/Vlogs, Optimized Press Releases, Social Media News Releases, Mobile Marketing Campaigns (not as frequent), Online Marketing/ Advertising, Online Newsrooms, Viral Videos, Photosharing, Podcasting & Webcasts, SEO, Microsites, Widgets & Wiki Updates

COMPENSATION:
Flat Fee of $1,000 per month, plus additional commissions on campaigns you help us to land, plus other work-load related bonuses

First of all, I would ask this PR agency what happens once these winning proposals have been written and approved by the client: Who executes on these programs and campaigns if not the Social Media honcho? If this is going to work, someone has to build and manage these programs, right? If not the Social Media “consultant” who wrote out the plan, whom? (Fail #1).

Fail #2: $1,000 per month? Are you kidding me? For all of that? (writing proposals, meeting with clients, Social Media audits, ROI measurement.) Yeah. Good luck with that. (It’s only NYC: I’m sure anyone can get by just fine on $12K per year – pre-tax.) Not that those skills are worth ten times that.

Question to the company responsible for this req: Where do I apply for the $800 per month CMO job please?

Man, it’s good to see smart companies still willing to pay big bucks for big talent. Way to go.

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I had a great conversation with someone about the topic of leaders vs. managers earlier this week, and was reminded of this post from about a year ago:

(Note – If you are an HR professional, you may not like what follows.)

“Managers make sure that work follows an established process. They don’t like change. Leaders, on the other hand, are restless creatures like gamblers who get excited about doing things a new way.”Now, here’s the problem: There’s a great need for talent and a glut of unqualified candidates. It’s going to take a leader to figure out how to move forward. And Recruiting is full of managers.

“One solution: take recruiting away from HR and give it to marketing people who know how to sell. Another: give it to the operational leaders who have the knowledge needed to assess the candidates technical skills.”

Per Kevin Wheeler, via The Recruiting Animal blog.

Whether you think that’s genius or complete bunk, read Kevin’s entire article here. Whatever side of the fence you happen to be on, it is well worth ten minutes.

By the way, I’m in the ATL today, so I will be slower than a slug when it comes to approving and responding to comments. ;)

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Call me lazy, but instead of writing something insightful for you guys today, I’m going to share some of my favorite finds from my morning’s croissant-induced online browsing.

All quotations courtesy of Pulled Quotes.

On finding out what works:

“I have no earthly idea what really works. I don’t know if it’s lunch or that powerpoint or the Christmas card I sent last year. But you know what? You have no clue what works either. I’ll keep experimenting if you will.”    -  Seth Godin


On why blogs work:

“Bloggers drive blogs, share price drives traditional media. Blogging is personal, traditional media is corporate.”    – Mark Cuban


On remembering what creativity really is:

Creativity is an act of open disobedience against the norms. Creativity is an act of courage.
-     Chris Bailey


On innovation, grabbing life by the horns, and not pissing your life away:

“Do things that are gaspworthy.”

That was one of the main messages delivered by Tom Peters, the influential business thinker and management guru, in his speech yesterday at Epsilon’s Integrated Marketing Symposium 2006 at the Quail Lodge in Carmel, CA.

Do cool stuff that make people gasp,” said Peters, who looked older and angrier than in his “In Search of Excellence Days” (the book he co-authored with Richard Waterman in 1982 that was hailed by NPR as one of the Top Business Books of the Century). “Don’t piss away your life.

He changed his speech at the last moment after having learning this week that one of his best friends has a terminal illness, Peters said.

Also noted

Innovation comes “not from market research or focus groups, but from pissed off people.

DM News


On passion and work:

“Whether you are Jack Welch or the Dalai Lama, it is dangerous not to do what you love. If you don’t have a level of passion that drives your thinking about what you’re doing day in and day out, there will be others out there who are passionate who will overtake and outrun you. People who care will take the initiative away from those who are half-hearted. So loving what you do is a competitive imperative, not simply a nice thing to have.

Knowledge @ Wharton interviews Mark Thompson and Stewart Emery, co-authors along with Jerry Porras of Success Built to Last

On retaining talent:

“One of my favorite cliches is “there is no such thing as indentured servitude”. I use that line to talk about the fact that talent can’t be bought and sold. It must be retained with something more than money.”    – Fred Wilson

So there you go. Now we’re all on the same wavelength. Have a great Monday!

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Eloquence, courage and passion:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The United States of America: Spitting in the face of tyranny since July 4, 1776.

I’ve loved you seemingly since the moment I was born. Happy Birthday, Sweetheart.

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You’re always in beta. Always. If you think you aren’t, you’re already falling behind and bleeding relevance.

What does being in Beta mean? It means being in perpetual test mode. It means constantly asking “how could I do this better,” even when this worked just fine. How can I listen better? How could I improve customer service? How can I make my billing process smoother? How could we improve the UI/UX of our websites? How can I engage my user community even better? How could this brochure have been better?

I know what you’re thinking: Poor kid. He’s terminally obsessive-compulsive. :D (Actually, I’m just compulsive, not obsessive, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The point is this: The moment you start thinking that you have found the perfect model, the second you start adopting a “let’s not change anything” mentality, you’re screwed. The “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” saying I hear a lot in the South is may have been pretty good advice a hundred years ago, but it isn’t anymore. Not if you want your company to stay competitive. Not if you want to see your company grow. Not if you want to see chronic improvement in everything you do.

Check out today’s video if you haven’t already. And if it doesn’t launch for you, go watch it here. (Thanks, Viddler!)

Interestingly, the “you’re always in Beta” mindset that I am talking about today seriously reminds me of the mindset athletes and coaches get into when it comes to improving performance. Say you’re currently a 24:00 5K runner, and you want to relive your college glory days by running an 18:00 5K a year from now. How do you do it? Simple: By stressing your system one little bit at a time. By challenging your comfort zone with every run. Going from 24:00 to 23:55, then 23:50, then 23:45 for the same distance, and so on. Turning up the heat and the intensity for a few weeks, then giving your body a chance to adapt. To plateau. And then starting over with a new cycle of stress and adaptation followed by a rest period. During that time, you are constantly testing your boundaries, monitoring success and failure, learning what works and what doesn’t. (And yes, measuring your progress to know what works and what doesn’t.) Pretty basic stuff.

The alternative would be to keep running the same 5K route every day at the exact same speed, in the exact same way. What would happen? Well, you would become pretty good at running a 5K  in 24:00. Comfortable? Sure. But whatever happened to improvement? See where I am going with this?

Okay, now let’s complicate things a little bit:

As a triathlete, training and competing in what essentially amounts to three sports (swimming, cycling and running) adds some pretty substantial layers of complexity. Not only do I have to figure out how to train for three specific sports, but I have to figure out how to combine and integrate all three in a way that doesn’t lead to injury or burnout. I also have to fit all three in my already busy schedule. Then I have to consider how to time my training cycles to coincide with specific races. In addition, I have to incorporate changes in nutrition and hydration based on my workouts, my training mode, outside temperatures, etc. And if I get into my head that I am going to train for a marathon, half Ironman or full-on mac-daddy Ironman, all of these variables take on a level of complexity I can’t even begin to explain in one blog post. How much Gatorade should I drink per hour in 94 degree temperatures at 80% of my maximum heart rate? How many energy gels can I absorb per hour without getting sick to my stomach? What cadence should I adopt to sustain an average speed of 21mph for 112 miles? Only one way to find out: Test it.

And I haven’t even talked about gear. Will the improved aerodynamics gained from dropping my aerobars down 2 millimeters shave 20 seconds off my 40K time? Maybe… but as a result, will my upper body’s new angle offset my hip angle enough to reduce my power output or stress my hip flexors enough that I will start cramping up 5 miles into the run? How will I find out? There’s only one way: Getting out there and testing that theory. It’s clipboard and stopwatch time for the next six weeks.

Should I go with a disc wheel or a deep dish rim for my next race? How will I know which works better for me on a moderately hilly course in 15mph crosswinds? Only one way: I have to go test each wheel configuration on a variety of courses in completely different wind conditions. Then I’ll know what works best in specific course conditions.

Rear-mounted bottle-cages or frame-mounted? Aero helmet or regular helmet? Motion control shoes or racing flats? Test test test test test. You get the picture.

Call it an occupational benefit or a pre-existing condition, but being a triathlete kind of trains you to be in a perpetual Beta mindset. And it isn’t a stretch to jump from the world of competitive endurance sports to the world of business performance. Different application, but same principles and same basic methodology: Ask, test, observe, validate, learn, repeat.

But before you do all this – the testing, the experimentation, the analysis and learning and adaptation – you have to make a choice. You have to pick a camp. You have to decide whether you are satisfied with your business performance as it is today (“good enough” is good enough for you and your customers), or hungry for improvement.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. It doesn’t matter what camp you decide to align yourself with: The one happy with the way things are or the one looking to kick ass a little more each day. What matters is that your decision work for you. But let’s be clear about the impact that your choice will have on your business: Sticking with a “let’s not change anything” mindset will not earn you more customers, increase customer loyalty or generate more sales. Where you are today is exactly where you will be tomorrow. If you’re lucky. Eventually, perhaps not next week or next month or next year, but eventually, this mindset will seal your doom. A Beta mindset, however, will help you uncover ways to innovate, earn more customers, cut costs, increase customer and employee loyalty, improve product design and performance… You name it: Whatever the opportunity to improve, do do things better and smarter, may be, you will systematically uncover it in the same way that Apple, Nike, BMW, Cervelo, HBO, Michael Phelps, IDEO, Lance Armstrong, Comcast and Zappos have.

If you want your company to be best in class, to own a market or an industry, to be the trendsetter, the example to follow, the leader in a category, you must adopt a perpetual Beta mindset. You have to constantly stress your systems and processes. You have to turn every action into a test an look at every activity as an opportunity to experiment.You have to measure, analyze, learn, adapt and repeat the cycle over and over and over again.

Question everything.

Work harder than the next guy to build the best XYZ the world has ever seen, and then find ways to make it even better.

Perfection is a process, not a milestone.

Embrace a state of perpetual Beta.


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