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Archive for April, 2006

Marcy’s Gift


Marcy Jarvis is a very cool writer, poet, artist, and friend. She just sent me a copy of her latest collection of poems (Advice) and it’s just wonderful. It’s the second book she’s sent me, and both sit on my coffee table right now. (And probably will for a very, very long time.)

One of my favorite things about the book is that almost every illustration that she didn’t create herself (every poem has its own) comes from friends Marcy has made on Buzznet. (Buzznet is an online community very much like Flickr… only a little tighter. It’s kind of like a Mac vs. PC or Ford vs. Chevy thing, if that makes any sense. They’re both good.) Anyway. Marcy’s poetry is inspired by blogs and photoblogs… which is fascinating to me. Blog-inspired-poetry. How cool is that?

So… Marcy, thanks for including some of my work in your book, thanks for the autographed copy, thanks for actually printing that crazy bio, and thanks for being such a wonderful friend, inspiration and contributor to our little world.

Finding your book in my mailbox really made my day. 🙂

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Yesterday’s post (Leaps Of Faith) was kind of a prelude for today. As a matter of fact, I want to start with this comment, left yesterday by Gavin Heaton. (If you haven’t been by his blog, by the way, you’re missing out. If anything, go there and find out why it’s called “Servant Of Chaos“. Cool stuff.) Here it is:

“You may have great ideas, but you also need others to believe in them, and to support them when you face hard times (and you will). Often competition comes not from outside your organisation, but from within. You may have the drive and the ideas, but you also need your friends and enemies to ensure success.”

Yep. You can have all the confidence in the word in yourself, but it’s a whole lot easier when you have a core group of people around you who also have confidence in you… and your success. They could be parents. They could be a spouse. A sibling. A best friend. A mentor. Someone you’ve never met but have spoken with via email.

The more you espect the person, the more their confidence in you will strengthen your resolve.

I’ll give you a weird little example of the dynamics of cnfidence-building, but first, I have to set this up for you. There is a 7.3 mile loop of road just outside of Greenville’s city limits that serves an industrial center and small airport, called the Donaldson Center. Every spring, as soon as daylight savings comes around, hundreds of cyclists meet on that strip of pavement every Tuesday evening to race.

Not just to race, but to race each other. (Yes, there is a difference.)

Every Tuesday, these fine folks gut it out for 4-6 insanely fast laps around this hilly, windy, wretched piece of road. The pavement is so rough and pitted that bike bottles routinely get rattled right out of their cages. In the middle of Summer, the heat is so thick that it chokes you and makes your eyeballs burn. Some days, the wind is so strong that it throws riders into each other and bends the trees amost sideways.

Anyway. There are three types of riders you’ll run into in bike races:

1. The ones who fall out. (They either aren’t ready to compete at that level, or they couldn’t gut it out when it mattered.) Many of them come back week after week until they stop getting dropped. Those eventually become one of the next two types of racers:

2. The ones who stay in the peloton (the pack) from start to finish. For them, it’s all about staying in the draft (where you don’t have to pedal as hard and where it’s safe). Where other people do most of the work. Where you can sit safely for the entire race and finish with everyone else.

3. The ones who attack. The ones who challenge. The ones who sprint away again and again and again… until other riders either get tired of chasing them down, or become to tired to do so.

Now… you can already see where I am going with this metaphor, so I can probably stop right there.

What could be clearer than a few hundred men and women on bikes, racing as hard as they can against each other? Some fall short. Some play it safe. Some surge on ahead and push the limits of the group as a whole.

Yeah. Just like Lance.

Everyone who shows up to race already has a lot of confidence in their skills. No question. But consider the amount of confidence it takes for those rare few riders to attack again and again. To sprint off on their own. To push their own wind. To choose their own speed. To work harder than anyone else. To risk shredding their legs early and have no shot at winning the race as a result. To risk getting dropped, even, if they push too hard.

I can tell you one thing about these brave souls, and it’s this: Being two hundred yards ahead of the peloton feels good. Knowing that everyone back there is hurting at least as much as you are feels good. Knowing that no on back there wants to take on the responsibility of trying to catch up feels good.

Setting the pace feels good.

Winning feels good.

Being the best feels good.

Having fifty or so of the state’s best riders frown every time they see you show up before the race start every week feels good. It’s exactly the kind of reinforcement that Gavin talks about in his comment. (Sometimes, your competition’s reaction and performance are just as important to confidence as a friendly pat on the back from someone who is actually in your corner.) Earning your competitor’s ire is always fun, but earning their respect is even better. That’s when you know you’ve arrived.

Earning your competitors’ respect, your family’s, your friends’, your customers’, and your employees’ respect feels really, really good.

The reality is this (and I’ve seen it everywhere – the military, school, business, sports, art, love, politics, medicine… everywhere): Not everyone has the confidence to answer the call of a worthy challenge when it comes. Not everyone has the confidence to lead the pack. Not everyone has the confidence to challenge it. Not everyone has the confidence to risk embarrassing themselves if they fail.

Not everyone has the confidence to make sure failure truly isn’t an option.

(And not everyone has the confidence to have that much damn fun pushing the limits of their art.)

Again, confidence manifests itself in innovation, in entrepreneurship, in design, in advertising, in marketing, in politics, in sports, in philosophy, in operating rooms, on battlefields and in boardrooms all over the world in one unmistakable trait: Leadership.

Leadership isn’t about bars on your sleeves or imposing little letters next to your name. Leadership is a trait. It’s a behavior. It’s an inner nature.

It’s confidence in action.

Now, think about this: In your work, what kind of rider are you?

In your market, what kind of rider is your company?

If the next ten years are a race, who do you think is going to win, and how are they (or you) going to win it? By sitting in the pack or by leading it when the time is right?

Do you want to be Lance Armstrong, or do you want to be one of the other guys whose names you’ll never know?

Food for thought. 🙂

Push your limits. You’ll be surprised how elastic they really are,

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Leaps of Faith


Starting a business. Investing in a new venture. Launching a new product. Greenlighting a new marketing campaign. Hiring a new key team member. Partnering with another company. Designing a new website. Updating an old logo. Opening a new location. Telling the truth. Saying no when you know you should. Doing the right thing, just because it is.

These are all leaps of faith.

The entrepreneurial spirit is nothing without leaps of faith. Especially when it comes to creating not just new businesses, but new types of business.

For whatever reason, I keep running into courageous entrepreneurs lately, and I have to admit that their energy and focus are infectious. Some have already established their businesses while others are just getting started.

One thing that these folks all have in common isn’t what you’d expect. It isn’t a sense of unbreakable optimism. It isn’t unshakable confidence. It isn’t the drive to make loads of money someday or be their own boss. It has nothing to do with living the American Dream.

It is simply courage.

What strikes me about every single one of them is that they aren’t going for the tried-and-true business model. I am not talking about franchises here. None of them is looking to copy existing businesses. They are all creating something new. Something different. Something no one (at least down here in South Carolina) has done before.

(And they’re all giving me a pretty serious dose of “why didn’t I think of that” syndrome to boot.)

What’s also striking about them is the fact that they’re all – without exception – fascinating people. Not in an excentric sort of way, not in a cosmopolitan jetsetter sort of way, but in a quiet, conversational, beautifully down-to-earth sort of way. These are people you enjoy having lunch with, just because they have interesting things to say. These are people you want to have drinks with, just because they are kindred spirits. They are well-adjusted, inquisitive, friendly, honest, candid people whose egos don’t get in the way of everything they have to offer. They like what they like. They speak their minds freely. They are not restricted by conventions or hindered by other people’s expectations.

They are willing to put everything on the line – their finances, their homes, their careers, their dreams – everything, because they believe in something that strongly. Because they are that determined to contribute something cool to the world. Something useful. Something good. Something that will either help businesses become more productive or make people’s lives a little better.

Something they feel is needed, whatever that may be. A faster computer. A better business service. A stronger online community. A more memorable shopping experience. A more comfortable fabric. A sexier haircut. A lighter running shoe. A more delicious dish.

Their courage is fueled by a sense of purpose, not just financial gain.

How refreshing is that?

Taking a true leap of faith is – more often than not – a good measure of character. Leaps of faith are what you see on football fields with twenty seconds to go and just one last chance to take back the game. Leaps of faith happen during firefights when one shot or one grenade toss can mean the difference between victory or defeat. Life and death. Leaps of faith happen every day. Some people welcome them, and others shrink from them.

People and companies who never take leaps of faith play defense. People and companies who take occasional leaps of faith play offense. Think Apple. Think Starbucks. Think Newman’s Own. Think Pixar. Think Michelin. Think HBO.

Sometimes, you have to take chances. You have to stand on your own. You have to risk it all, because not doing so and being haunted by regret later is just out of the question. And because great ideas are well worth fighting for.

True entrepreneurs are groundbreakers. Innovators. Rule breakers. Agents of change. They are leaders, even if they don’t realize it. When it comes to business, they are the embodiment of courage.

Make no mistake: There’s no glory in same as. There’s no future in also in. Not really. Not unless you want to look down the barrel of a price war. Not unless you want to watch your company or career spike for a while, then die a fast, ugly death.

It takes courage to be great.

Just remember that fortune does indeed favor the bold.

Or as the French would say: “Qui risque rien n’a rien.” (He who risks nothing has nothing.)

Have you taken a leap of faith lately? If so, how did you feel afterwards? How were you changed? How did surviving affect your confidence? Were any of the changes negative?

Think about this: What kind of effect do you think an occasional leap of faith would have on your company? On its direction? On its image? On its innovative spirit? On the energy driving it forward?

On its competitive advantage?

Think about it.

(Your competition is.)

Note to anyone catching this on an RSS feed: Sorry about the triple posting. I had trouble with my browser today. 🙂

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Blog Elitism

I want you to read this blog post I found earlier today (highlighted in red). You may agree with it, or you may not… It doesn’t really matter either way. What’s important is that you read it and make up your own mind.

(Having said that, it kind of reminds me of this, which I think is pretty sad.)

“Here’s what I don’t like about the “professional” blogging space. And by “professional,” I don’t mean people who get paid to blog – I mean people who claim to be professionals in a certain professional field (say, marketing, identity development, customer experiences or WOMM).

Some of them are completely full of BS. They go on and on and on about what makes great companies and how to inspire greatness in your employees and customer experiences… but they have no real-life, hands-on experience to back it up. Nothing. Or, at the most, a very small, kind-of, draw a very weak line to success that suddenly makes them an expert in an entire category. And until you dig down and find out what really does or does not make them an “expert,” then you just don’t know.

I’m thankful there are the John Moore’s, Jackie Huba’s and a handful of others in the world who have real experience backing them up when they speak in public or on their blog. I listen to them because I know that they know what they’re talking about. They’ve lived it.

As I learned back when I was a copywriter: everyone’s a writer. And a lot of them can sound like they know what they’re talking about – especially when they write these very long, very verbose, paragraph after paragraph pontifications that sound smart. And maybe the writer is smart. But untested theories are just that until they are proven in the real world. With real clients. And real customers. But there’s no way of telling if they’re legit without asking.”

– Spike Jones

Very few people out here in the blogosphere claim to be experts, yet a lot of them (not just a handful) have very interesting things to say. Just look at my blogroll: It’s huge and it is going to continue to grow. Why? Because I discover fantastic new marketing blogs every week. Some of them are written by consultants and marketing professionals with impressive credentials, while others are written by code warriors, retail clerks and engineers who have zero formal experience in marketing. Interestingly, they’re all good.

What’s amazing to me is that the more blogs I discover, the more I realize that no single person has all the answers. (Okay… maybe Guy Kawasaki comes close, but whatever.) As a matter of fact, the more blogs I discover, the more genuine voices I run into, the more points of view I get exposed to, the clearer things become.

It’s absolutely brilliant.

On any given day, I can choose to read the thoughts and ideas of dozens of people whose cultural, professional, and economic experiences are completely different from my own. They aren’t all experts, but that’s the point. Sometimes, the most relevant questions aren’t asked by the PhD’s. They’re asked by the janitor or the mid-level manager or the first-time customer.

Sometimes, the most relevant observations come from the most unlikely places, which is precisely why they are so fascinating: They come from the trenches, not the board room. They come from people whose purpose in making them has nothing to do with profits or strategy or ego. These observations are real. Raw. Honest. There’s no spin. They’re our own experiences, only exposed by complete strangers. It’s refreshing, empowering and validating. Finally, everyone has a voice: Customers, interns, students, observers, everyone… and the questions they are asking should have been answered twenty years ago. By the “experts”.

Based on Spike’s mode of thinking, I guess that “only a handful” of professional politicians should really be allowed to blog about politics. Only former Secretaries of State should be allowed to blog about international affairs. Maybe Nasa should put together a qualifying program for anyone wanting to blog about space travel or astronomy.

The new snob mantra: Only “experts” should have a voice.

Yeah. Brilliant.

I don’t really see how working in advertising (or being a consultant, for that matter) has ever made anyone an expert in customer experience design, word-of-mouth-this, or identity-development-that. If anything, retail clerks and avid shoppers are the only real experts when it comes to the subject of customer experience. High-school kids are the only real experts when it comes to WOM. Here’s the thing: Being an “expert” comes at a price – Most of your time has to be spent doing the very thing that makes you an expert, which means that you can’t really become a professional expert: The more time you devote to talking about it, the less time you can devote to actually doing it. There is an opportunity cost there. If your job becomes talking rather than doing, then your expertise begins to shift.

This is why so many consultants become experts at being consultants rather than in the fields they get paid to be experts in. It’s an easy trap to fall into.

In other words, the “experts” aren’t necessarily who you think they are.

Ultimately, when it comes to blogs, the number of plaques someone has on their wall, how many initials and periods fall after their name, how many VP-this and client list-that their CV sports… none of those things really matter. What matters is the relevance of their message. That’s it. Punto finale.

Blogging isn’t about status or titles. Blogging is about sharing ideas. It doesn’t matter if you’re a ten-year-old kid in Sarajevo, a retired contractor in New Delhi, a mystery shopper in Toronto, or the founder of Google. Great ideas, observations and insights can come from anywhere, at any time.

Not only can they, they should. That’s both the point and the beauty of this medium.

That is why it is always disappointing to run into self-righteous bloggers who think that their professional background or experience somehow entitles them to criticize other bloggers. Especially when they themselves don’t know much at all about who they are throwing stones at to begin with. I just don’t get it. It’s the kind of myopic snobbism that just reeks of insecurity, ignorance and prejudice. (It kind of reminds me of those annoying “holier-than-thou” Bible-beaters who think that you and everyone but their little clique are going straight to hell… and looooooove telling you all about it.)

I’m not sure what fueled Spike’s unfortunate rant. Maybe he is annoyed by the fact that he has to compete against an increasing number of bloggers whose posts might be better received than his. Maybe all that “noise” from bloggers without the right “qualifications” is interfering with his site’s Technorati rankings? (Since Spike’s blog serves the purpose of trying to sell something – not that there’s anything wrong with it, perhaps he has more at stake than those of us whose only purpose in blogging is to… well… just share ideas. Especially the good ones.)

Or maybe it’s just an ego thing. Who knows.

Here’s what I do know: If you want real answers, you have to live and work in the real world. You can’t just come down from your A-list wannabe’s creative ivory tower once in a while and stick your nose up at what you don’t like or fully understand. It just isn’t very productive.

Just like it isn’t very productive to tell people what they can or can’t blog about.

But the great thing about the blogosphere is that he has the opportunity to speak his mind. He will even find people who will agree with him, and although I completely disagree with him on this particular point, I think it’s great that he gets a chance to share his bile with the world. Heck, I am devoting this monster post just to him, purposely to put it in front of more eyeballs. How great is that?!

What Spike probably doesn’t know, is that most of us who have been working out here in the real world of marketing – not just the hip world of marketing services agencies – have been getting face time with thousands of shoppers, product users, assembly line workers, after-market service specialists, delivery people, customer service reps, retailers, government bodies and every type of customer imaginable for years. We haven’t looked at projects just from two or three angles. We’ve looked at them from every angle. We’ve followed products from the designers’ cocktail napkin sketches, all the way to the recycling centers. We’ve listened to thousands upon thousands of people’s reactions, perceptions, opinions and suggestions about everything from branding and expectations, to website usability and the customer-friendliness of product return policies. We’ve looked at the effect that different invoice designs have on how quickly payments are made. It’s pretty interesting stuff.

While some people were busy focusing on how to sell their companies’ creative services from the comfortable confines of their hip little headquarters, some of us were busy studying why and how companies fail, and why they succeed. In the field. Not just here, but overseas as well. And guess what? We’ll still be doing it in some way shape or form in another ten years, and another ten, and another ten after that.

People like us don’t strive to be experts. We simply strive to understand, learn, and share all of our observations and insights with whomever might benefit from even a sliver of what we’ve learned. Because it’s in our blood, we tend to do it for free. (And maybe that’s the rub.)

The term “expert” obviously means different things to different people, but all in all, we all pick and choose our own experts based on how well they fit our own experience and expectations. It’s a highly subjective thing… like crowning your favorite guitarist as “the best guitarist” or your favorite painter as “the best painter”. One man’s “expert” is another man’s… “who?” For people like Spike, “experts” seem to simply serve the purpose of validating his own views. (I believe “X”, so if this respected superconsultant preaches “X”, they’re my expert of record.)

There are tons of other great voices out there, and most aren’t “experts.” That’s a good thing, because it tends to take the ego out of the equation.

In the world of blogging, and increasingly in the business world in general, “experts” are finally starting to become irrelevant. Thank goodness for small miracles. Anyone with an opinion and decent research to back it up can be an expert. There’s very little value there. What we need more of are well-rounded generalists whose intellectual scope isn’t limited to… the same exact thing they have been doing every day for the last ten years.

When it comes to blogs, I couldn’t care less if a blogger is a homemaker, a forty-year veteran of the conference circuit or the hippest CMO on the planet. If what they have to say rings true, if it is relevant, if it inspires readers to make positive changes in their organizations (0r their lives, even), if it challenges them to consider new ways of thinking about their business, if it opens new doors for them, then this big blogging experiment has been a success. Case in point: even a copywriter-turned-new business hound can make relevant posts about customer experience issues and WOMM. Aren’t blogs grand?

Everyone has real experience to back up what they write about on their blogs… or discuss with their friends. Everyone. Anyone. That’s the point.

There are no “untested theories” when it comes to marketing. Only case studies waiting to be discovered and shared. Some of us are out there doing the work. Others are simply content to wait for brilliant folks like John Moore and Jackie Huba to hold their hand and lead them safely there. The beauty of the blogosphere is that whichever path works best for you, you won’t be left out if you don’t want to be. Even here, all roads lead to Rome.

Maybe with time, Spike’s horizons will broaden enough to help him gain a better appreciation for this medium and all that it has to offer. That would be swell. Until then, I guess the rest of us nobodies will just have to find the courage to go on blogging without his expert stamp of approval.

The world is an imperfect place, but we’ll try to manage.

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The story of your relationship with your customers should read like what’s going on in pho4me‘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.

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Optimum Zen


Thanks to the folks at “This Is Broken” for the heads-up on yet another brilliant marketing idea for those of us who aren’t satisfied with just plain old everyday zen: Optimum Zen! (It’s zentastic.)

Hey, to be fair, you never know when you’re going to need a little extra zen in your zen, you know? (Nothing says “I’m a real go-getter” better than a cereal that optimizes your inner harmony the way you optimize your financial reports and powerpoint presentations. Hoo-ah!)

I’m just hoping that the smart marketers at Nature’s Path will also come out with Sugar Free Zen soon, for those of us who want to be able to enjoy zen but without all the extra calories this summer. (Zen always looks a whole lot better with six-pack abs, as you well know.) Alternate names: Zen Zero, Zen One, Zen Ultra, or Zen Minus.

Or maybe even Microwavable Zen, for days when some of us just don’t have a lot of time on our hands and are forced to enjoy our morning zen on the go.

Or even Extreme Zen, for mornings when you need that monster boost of zenergy with every bite… although – and product managers, listen up – the zenplosion on the front of the box might have to get a little upgrade: Maybe some glossy lightning bolts and a HUGE volcanic erruption or something.

Ca-ching!

;P

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Growth happens one little step at a time. There’s a pace to it. A pattern. If you stand really still while you let it carry you, you can almost see it, just out of the blurry edges of your line of vision. It’s kind of like pedaling on a bike, and then coasting for a few seconds to feel the pavement’s feedback come up through your frame.

It’s nice.

Look at that tree in Kristyanne’s photo. It’s a growth pattern. It’s exactly the same as your company’s. It’s exactly the same as your brain, and the network of blood vessels and nerve pathways throughout your body.

It’s exactly the same as your social networks, your website’s architecture, your genetic history, and your spending habits. All healthy growth patterns look like this. (Unhealthy ones look like a really long and crooked stump.)

Forget about bar charts. This is the real deal.

Every little branch is a customer. A client. A project. Every big branch is a partner. A venture. An idea you’ve followed through.

The more big branches, the more little branches.

The more things you try, the more questions you ask, the more ideas you explore, the more challenges you tackle, the more great people you befriend, the more favors you do for fun, the more new experiences you seek out, the more skills you learn, the more chances you take, the more you screw up and try again, the more branches will grow.

Routine is not a recipe for growth. It ought not even be an option.

We’ve added a few very cool little branches to our tree this week (via the decidedly polymorphic F360), and I am seven kinds of excited about each one of them. There’s no guarantee that any will grow into big branches, but that’s just the point. I don’t really want to know. I want to find out.

I was happy to learn today that a good number of folks from the just defunct Henderson Advertising agency have opted to forego looking for jobs at other ad agencies and are forming their own firms. That’s the best news I’ve heard all week. Cheers to every one of you who chose that path. You’ve just made the best decision of your respective careers.

Welcome to life 2.0.

It’s been a long week for a lot of people, myself included. Weeks like this are great tests, on so many levels. They test your resolve. They test your endurance. They test the people around you. They test your tolerance for everything from some people’s arrogance to the self-righteousness they try and pass off as wisdom, authority or even good will. These are the weeks when everyone’s true character is revealed to you, when even the most well articulated piles of bullshit can’t be passed off as anything but what they are anymore, and when those who bring nothing worthwhile to the table can no more hide from the sting of their own irrelevance than conceal it from everyone who hadn’t yet noticed it. These are the weeks when the strongest of your branches begin to grow, and your understanding of the path they will carve for themselves takes on a zen-like clarity.

Everyone I met with this week, everyone whose hand I shook, everyone with whom I shared a cup of coffee or a bite to eat, or the corner of a couch or table or doorway, thank you. If you are reading this blog, you know who you are. You’re all branches now. Some personal, others professional, some both. Every last one of you. I have to pinch myself every ten minutes to make sure I didn’t just dream the last five days.

They were that good.

I think that after today, I’m going to take a couple of days off to recharge my batteries, enjoy some sunshine, hang out with my impossibly cool little family and as many of the amazing friends and partners in crime that I have been lucky enough to meet in recent weeks, months and years, and count my blessings. The next two days are going to be as nice as the rest of 2006 is going to be absolutely insane.

I am the luckiest guy on both fronts. You have no idea.

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