Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘advice’ Category

Continuing the series started a few weeks ago with Bette Davis, here are some lessons that a bright dead personality could teach us were they alive today. This week: Gaius Julius Caesar – a guy so successful in his time that his last name became synonymous with “Emperor”. (Point of note: the term “Czar” is a contraction of “Caesar.”)

Here what Julius Caesar might talk about if he could speak at #Likeminds, #Ungeeked and #SxSW today:

1. Six inches of point beats two feet of blade.

The Roman legions conquered most of the known world using javelins and the standard issue short-sword called a Gladius. Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, the gladius was a stabbing weapon, not a hacking/slicing weapon. Compared to long swords and battle axes wielded by barbarian hordes, the gladius seemed a child’s weapon: Short and dagger-like, not particularly good at slicing. Yet its six inches of stabbing point beat its longer, scarier counterparts in battle. Why? Because the Roman legions were trained to use it properly.

What the Roman legions knew (and the barbarian hordes – including my own people, the Gauls didn’t) is that flailing wildly with long, heavy weapons forces you to commit too much to each attack. Swinging a heavy weapon opens up your guard just long enough for a legionnaire to thrust his gladius from behind a wall of shields and take you down. Not to mention the energy efficiency of a quick thrust vs. a wide swing. Legions used less energy in battle than their ill-trained counterparts, which allowed them to fight longer, thus giving them the ability to win against 2:1 and sometimes 3:1 odds.

Sometimes, the difference between effectiveness and failure lies in how expertly a tool is used. Bigger and better doesn’t guarantee success. Fluency and expertise in the use of very specific tools, however, can turn an apparent disadvantage into a win. A well trained operator with a simple  tool can be much more effective than a less well trained operator with an expensive, more impressive tool. Never take training, focus and discipline for granted.

2. People want to be led, not controlled.

While Julius Caesar was in command of his legions, he was hailed as a hero. His men would have followed him anywhere (and did). Why? Because he led them to victory and glory.

When he returned to Rome after defeating his rival Pompey, Caesar tried to rule Rome as a dictator. That didn’t work so well. In shifting from leadership to absolute control, he stepped over a line that the people of Rome – and even his closest allies – refused to cross with him. The result: Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators bent on making an example of his death to any future would-be dictators. The lesson: Leadership = good. Control = bad.

Leadership implies direction. It promises a better tomorrow. It engages and fascinates and inspires. Control, however, is a crushing weight on liberty that no man ever accepts freely. Control breeds resentment and hatred. It fosters discord and revolution. Be aware of the difference and how your leadership/management style is perceived by the people under your charge. Aim to lead, never to control.

3. “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

A) Everyone loves a winner. The ingredients of leadership may be a brew of courage, vision and intelligence, but its flavor and appeal are the wins. It isn’t enough to be a leader. You have to prove it again and again by pulling off some key victories. Winning gives you something to talk about. Not winning means you should talk less and work more.

B) Brevity goes hand in hand with clarity. It doesn’t get much clearer than “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Even in twitterland, that leaves you more than enough room to add a hyperlink to a PDF that elaborates on such a succinct report.

4. “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

Books are nice. They’re a start. But at some point, you have to DO the thing. You have to build the business. Grow the business. Win market share. Outpace your competitors. Recruit the best minds. Create the culture-changing products. Fix the accelerator glitch. Stop the giant underwater oil leak. Rejuvenate your brand. Redefine your market. This stuff isn’t theoretical. You have to roll up your sleeves and learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t.

Julius Caesar learned soldiering with the rank and file of the Roman legions. He fought in the front lines, shoulder to shoulder with legionnaires. He slept with them, ate with them, drank with them, marched with them and bled with them. Had he not spent years in the trenches doing the work himself, he would not have been the military leader he became. “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

The subtleties of experience trump the best theoretical education in the world. Books will only get you started. You have to go the other 90% of the way through hard work. There’s just no getting around it. If you can’t learn how to be a race car driver by reading books, you certainly can’t learn how to lead an army of run a business that way either.

As for Social Media “certifications,” forget about it. Training (even what I can teach you at Red Chair events) will only get you so far. The only way to get good at something is to do it, and do it and do it until it becomes second-nature. Experience trumps instruction.

Say it with me, out loud so the whole class can hear you: There are no shortcuts.

5. “Cowards die many times before their actual deaths.”

Be bold. Take chances. Don’t hide. Every time you don’t speak up in a meeting, every time you let some jerk at the office take credit for your work, every time you hold off on releasing a product or green-lighting a bold campaign, you are building your house with faulty, weakened bricks.

Winning, being successful, beating the competition isn’t achieved by playing defensively. Every win is a succession of decisions that imply risk and take courage. Likewise, every failure is a succession of decisions marred by fear and cowardice. Learn this.

The same rules apply to your online presence: If you want to find your voice in the blogosphere and on the twitternets, have the courage of your convictions. Speak your mind, even if what you have to say may earn you a few frowns. It is easy to feel pressured by some well-followed “personalities” to keep your mouth shut or not speak against the grain. Don’t let yourself be intimidated. Your opinion is as valuable as theirs, and your point of view just as worthy of expression. Being blackballed by a handful of self-important bloggers isn’t the end of the world. Better to know who your friends and enemies are than to live in fear of retaliation. Speak your mind. Find strength in courage.

Build your house, one courageous decision and action at a time.

6. “I had rather be first in a village than second at Rome.

Some folks are just happy to be there. Others are okay with being top 5. Others yet are content to be #2. Leaders don’t fit into any of these categories. They want to be #1. It’s a personality trait, nothing more. It can’t be faked or learned. You’re either this type of person or you aren’t. Bill Gates wasn’t interested in being #20, so he started Microsoft. Steve Jobs: Same story. Sir Richard Branson: idem. The great leaders of history, whether in antiquity or in our time all share a similar personality trait: #2 is not an option.

Same thing with companies and brands: Would you rather be #1 in a niche market or #3 in a broad market? Which holds the greatest value? Ask Apple where they went with that. Ask Microsoft where they went with it. It isn’t a question of which is the better choice. The question is more personal: Which is the better choice for you?

Note: Incidentally, in the world of Social Media platforms, there is no #2. You’re either #1 in your category, or you are on your way out. In this world, velocity and scale win.

7. “It is not these well-fed long-haired men that I fear, but the pale and the hungry-looking.”

The competition is the hungry kid with an idea, ambition and nothing to lose. Thirty years ago, they were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Five years ago, they were Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams. Who’s next? Who will crush Big Advertising? Big Web? Big Print? Big Software? Big Consulting? Big Energy?

If you’re the industry leader, don’t look to your biggest competitors. Instead, look to the kids with the brains, the vision and the huevos to redefine your category and make you obsolete. Likewise, if you’re one of those kids, don’t let the big dogs intimidate you. If you have a better idea, fight for it. Make it happen. Don’t settle for what’s comfortable. Fight. The old guy playing golf with his CEO buddies every other day, he’s given up.

In the long run, my money is always on the hungry young wolf, not the fat one taking a nap in the sun.

8. “It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life.”

It is better to be a pioneer than a student. Go where no one has gone. Until Julius Caesar marched into Gaul and made it a Roman territory, it was a wild and savage land Rome feared would never be tamed. He had a vision of what could be, and he made that vision a reality.

Henry Ford had a vision. So did Walt Disney. So did the United States of America’s Founding Fathers. So did Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz (yes, I know, he wasn’t the original founder, but he was the one who made Starbucks “Starbucks”), Bill Bowerman, and Branson. Every brand of note, from the Roman Republic to The Beatles focused on creating and building, not just on learning. Learn all you want, but then do something with what you’ve learned. Contribute. Create something of value. Even if it is just a #chat, an idea, a YouTube video, a blog post, a presentation or an app. Create something. Anything.

9. Ask everything of your people, but reward them like kings.

The men who served in Julius Caesar’s legions and survived to the end retired wealthy. Never forget whose work really made you successful. Your employees, your friends, your business partners, your customers… Everyone who contributed to your success deserves more reward than you can afford. never lose sight of that. Executives who treat lowly employees like cattle are epitomes of stupidity and arrogance. In sharp contrast, executives who treat every employee with respect and gratitude are all win in my book. Strive to be the latter, and don’t skimp on rewards. Look a little further than the proverbial gold watch when trying to reward loyalty. Rise above institutional apathy. Yes you can.

Same with twitter followers and blog readers. If they buy your book, if they come see you speak, if they help you in any way, take the time to do something for them. Strive to give back more than you receive.

10. “The die is cast.”

Make decisions. Live with those decisions. It’s that simple. Once you’ve committed yourself and your business to a course of action, to a play, to a tactical path, you’re committed. The time for doubt or indecision is gone. Stay the course and brave the storm. It’s all you can do.

Leadership isn’t for everybody. It takes nerves of steel, sometimes. It’s hard on the soul.

When you fail: Accept responsibility for the failure, learn from it, dust yourself off, and try again. No need to dwell on what you can’t change. Focus on what you can change.

When you succeed: Reward your people and give them all the credit. Don’t stop and rest, though. When you’re winning is when you should keep advancing. Winning is100%  about momentum. Never forget that.

Read Full Post »

I am not going to talk about brand management, social media, digital communications or any of the usual topics today. Instead, let’s talk about time. Your time. And to make things quick, I’ve decided to do it all on video rather than force you to read another BrandBuilder dissertation. If the video doesn’t work, here’s a link: (Click here)

Read Full Post »

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. 😀 (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.


Read Full Post »


From Tim Coote‘s always brilliant and enjoyable blog:

“When people ask me how do you make it in show business or whatever, what I always tell them — And nobody ever takes note of it ‘cuz it’s not the answer they wanted to hear. What they want to hear is here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script, here’s how you do this — But I always say, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If somebody’s thinking, “How can I be really good?”, people are going to come to you. It’s much easier doing it that way than going to cocktail parties.”

Steve Martin.

All of the strategies and marketing angles will be trumped by this one piece of advice everytime – “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. If you’re catching balls in the end zone week after week or motivating people to do their best and it works week after week you will be noticed. People want to notice you because it’s why the world spins. It’s why people are able to get out of bed and go to work. Aspiring to greatness is the honey in the lion.

Damn, Tim. Well put.

Read Full Post »

J.T. O'Donnell speaking in Greenville, SC

J.T. O'Donnell speaking in Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC got a big treat today: Career expert JT O’Donnell was in town to speak at Linking The Upstate‘s inaugural event at the historic Westin Poinsett Hotel. Two words for you: Awe and some. I knew JT was pretty savvy when it comes to career advice, but I had no idea just how smart, engaging and approachable she was. If you guys aren’t familiar with her work yet, check out her website, her Careerealism blog, buy her book, and go ahead and start following Careerealism on twitter. And if you ever find yourself unhappy with your career or uncertain about your professional direction, do yourself a favor and reach out to her. You will look back on that email, tweet or phone call someday and realize it was one of the smartest things you ever did. Trust me on this.

By the way, if you missed it, you can check out some of the event’s coverage via Twitter hashtag #careerealism. Look for my avatar (ahem).

And as an aside, I have to give BIG kudos to Thomas Parry for launching Linking The Upstate so quickly… and so well. What a way to kick it off. Very well done. The group’s objective is to connect all of the 864’s business groups together (chambers of commerce, technology, HR, creative, networking, business groups, etc.) to leverage their collective economic, innovative and intellectual potential. A lofty and timely goal that I will definitely help support in the coming months.

Here are a few pictures from what turned out to be a pretty social day (even for me):

 

The pommes frites I ate

The pommes frites I ate

 

 

Thomas Parry, J.T. O'Donnell, Trey Pennington and Doug Cone at The Lazy Goat restaurant

Thomas Parry, J.T. O'Donnell, Trey Pennington and Doug Cone at The Lazy Goat restaurant

 

 

Yes, I take pictures of stuff I eat

Yes, I take pictures of stuff I eat

Thomas Parry at the Westin Poinsett Hotel introducing Linking The Upstate

Thomas Parry at the Westin Poinsett Hotel introducing Linking The Upstate

J.T. O'Donnell presenting at Greenville, SC's historic Westin Poinsett Hotel

J.T. O'Donnell presenting at Greenville, SC's historic Westin Poinsett Hotel

I don’t want to leave you guys with just photos and no takeways, so here are a few nuggets of information I grabbed from JT’s fantastic presentation:

 

 

4 out of 5 HR professionals will google an applicant BEFORE inviting them to interview. What will they find? (Hint: Have you googled yourself lately?)

The two worst things that can happen when a prospective employer googles you: 1. They find something embarrassing or not particularly positive (that may make them reconsider your application). 2. They find nothing at all. Lesson: Start managing your online presence better. Create a positive, professional, consistent and factual footprint for yourself online.

College students graduating this year will have an average of 9 different careers before they retire.

The average duration of a job in the US today  is only 18 months. (We are all glorified temps.)

Currently, 1 out of 12 Americans is either unemployed or underemployed.

Job boards are 60% down right now: The demand for jobs is so high that the volume of job applications via job boards is overwhelming HR departments. Result, they are turning to other sourcing methods to find quality applicants.

80% of open positions in the US are filled via referrals.

Whatever you may hear or believe, in this day and age, not having a blog and a presence on LinkedIn, FaceBook and Twitter can and will absolutely stall your career. (Management level folks.)

Tip: Don’t wait until you are unemployed to start building your networks. The sooner you start and the more you nurture them, the easier it will be for you to find your next gig when the axe finally falls. (Better yet, if you do this right, you will probably be recruited right out of your current job.)

Again: The easiest way to stand out from the crowd of people competing against you for your dream job is to have a well designed and solidly crafted blog. If you don’t have one yet, start. If you have one but it needs help, get help. (Incidentally, if you are in Greenville next week, we are putting together a WordPress Workshop specifically geared towards this. Check out www.wpgreenville.com to sign up.)

For more great advice, go check out the Careerealism blog and be sure to drop JT a note.

Have a great Friday, everyone. 😉

Read Full Post »

doyoulikeit1

Word to the wise: If you don’t stand out in some way, you’re done.

You might be able to exist, you might manage to survive, but that’s all you’ll ever have to look forward to. You can be a one-man show and still be corporate. Don’t do it. Don’t waste your time being just like everyone else. Don’t waste your soul on being average.

Give yourself more credit. Everyone has strengths. Everyone has talents and abilities. Not using them every day even in some small way is such a shame it ought to be a crime. (And it’s bad business to boot.)

Whether you’re a photography studio, a web design firm, a sports magazine, a sportswear company, a triathlon shop or an antique furniture store, you either stand out, or someone who does will come along to wow your audience and steal your business right from under your nose.

Trust me on this: you can’t afford to be average. Even if you’ve based your entire business model on the lowest pricepoints, on bare-bones bottom-line imports, you have to take your uniqueness as far as humanly possible… and then some.

Yes, even accounting and financial services firms can stand out. Restaurants. Retail outlets. Breweries. Day care centers. Schools. Law offices. Graphic design firms. Janitorial services agencies. Manufacturing plants. It doesn’t matter. Your industry and specialty are irrelevant. Anyone can stand out.

Here’s a tip for you: The best way to stand out in a crowd is simply to stand for something: Producing the most useful online content for your users. Making it easy for your customers to get information on products before they shop. Providing your clients with the best after-sale service in the industry. Brewing the best cup of coffee in the world. Turning boring shopping experiences into something fun and enjoyable. Returning calls faster than anyone else. Being the easiest company your customers have ever had the pleasure to do business with.

Business models are just templates, folks. They’re the framework. Marketing, advertising, branding, PR, all of these things are great, but remember that you can customize your business all on your own too. From packaging to billing to the way you answer the phones. From the grade of toilet paper you stock in your bathrooms to the way you hire new talent. From the corners you will never, ever cut to the crazy ideas you decide to put stock into. From the stand you take on community issues to the tone of the dialogue you foster with your customers. It is all in your hands.

Stand for something. Stand out. Be extraordinary, if only for a year, if only in the eyes of a handful of customers. If only during the course of a single phonecall.

Be memorable.

Be worthy of note.

Don’t ever, ever, ever settle for safe or average or just good enough. Not in the big things. Not in the small things.

Know who you are and who you want to be as a person, as a company, as a brand, and just do it.

No one – let me repeat this – no one is standing in your way.

Now go out there and conquer something. (Yes, right now.)

Read Full Post »

obama-speech-b1

Republican business owners and managers, read this post. (Democrats too.)

Whatever side of the aisle you may be on, the die is cast. The democratic process has worked. Americans have elected the next President of the United States of America. #44, by last count.

Many of you are probably pretty excited that your guy won today. Many of you are probably also angry that your guy didn’t. All of you are probably worried about what will come next: The simple “okay, now what?” question. Will I still have a job in six months? Will my company continue to prosper in the next year? Will I be able to hire new employees this spring, or will I have to let people go? And on and on and on.

My advice to you: Chill.

If you are among the Obama/Biden supporters, I am going to guess that your outlook today is pretty positive. You’re looking at a bright 4-8 years ahead. In your mind, this will probably be the best time to start a new business venture, to travel abroad, to partner with great people and companies.

If you are among the McCain/Palin/Joe The Plumber supporters, your outlook is probably pretty gloomy. You’re looking at what may be disastrous 4-8 years ahead. In your mind, this will probably be the worst time to start a new business venture, travel overseas or partner with great people and companies.

Funny how your perceptions – and ONLY your perceptions – affect the way you envision your business’ outlook in the next few years.

So my advice to you again: Chill. Take a deep breath. Seriously. What happens next in Washington won’t affect you all that much at all. Relax.

Unless you’re big like Exxon, Walmart and at&t, whomever happens to be sitting in the Oval Office really has zero bearing on your business’ success. None. You may think it does, you may have come up with a list of reasons why McCain would have helped you be more successful and why Obama will kill your profits, but you’re wrong. The success of your company depends entirely on you: The CEO. The CMO. The salesperson. The customer service rep. The franchisee. The cashier. The designer. The IT guy. The PR manager. The product manager. The greeter. Success or failure are entirely yours to own.

Likewise, if you voted Democrat, having Barack Obama in the White House won’t make your business successful either. His presidency won’t miraculously cure the ills of our society and restore the market to its pre-crash bubble days. The truth is, regardless of who sits in the White House and who owns the Senate and House of Reps, we have some rough terrain ahead. We’re all going to have to be smart, innovative and resourceful if we’re going to be successful. Neither Obama nor Biden will do anything to help you make payroll, attract and retain customers, or launch the next game-changing product. They have bigger issues to deal with than you – even if you’re the coolest, smartest, hardest working person on the planet.

Reality vs. imaginary dragons: Focus on what you know, not on what you don’t.

What the next 4 years have in store, nobody knows. Higher taxes? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Best case scenario: Our taxes won’t change much. Worst case scenario, they will increase incrementally. As in: Not enough to make much of an impact on anyone, rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle. Even if I were in the $250K+ bracket (which I am clearly not), watching my taxes increase a little more to help ease our embarrassing trillion dollar deficit would be a small price to pay. What’s done is done. Let’s fix our mess, learn from our mistakes, and move on.

I only mention this to point out that whatever happens with taxes next year… or the year after that – or whenever – should be the least of your worries right now. Possible tax increases are not threatening your business right now, and won’t anytime soon. Get your mind back on the present. On what obstacles you are faced with today. There will be plenty of time to worry about next year’s challenges twelve months from now.

In other words, before we start speculating about the next four years, we might all want to start thinking about the next six months. What problems are you really facing between now and next spring? What are the immediate problems you need to find solutions to? These are the real questions you should be focusing on.

You may not be completely aware of it, but your emotional outlook impacts your success. Yeah, I know, it sounds like I’m spewing self-help bullshizzle right now, but it’s a fact: Believe in success, visualize it, map it out, and you will have a much greater chance of making it happen than if you instead convince yourself that your business will fail. Positive attitudes win races, win deals and win business. Positive attitudes win.

Negative attitudes don’t.

Have you ever been around someone who is just soooo negative? The sky is falling, nothing is going right, the world is coming to an end? After a few minutes, you start to feel the same way. Their negativity starts to affect you. It’s a natural thing. We all feed off each other’s moods and dramas. In the same way, as a CEO or business manager, if you’re negative, that mood affects everyone you come in contact with, starting with your employees and ending with your customers.

Consider this: Your positive attitude can infect your customer touchpoints in such a way that one short encounter with them tomorrow morning could set the stage for an afternoon of wonderfully positive interactions with hundreds of customers. Like the happy cashier at the checkout who makes you feel great about your shopping experience, because their day started with a wonderful experience at work. Likewise, your negative attitude might affect your customer touchpoints in such a way that a brief, negative encounter with them tomorrow morning might make them worry about their jobs, about whether or not they are seen as valuable employees and whether or not they even enjoy working there. What kind of interactions do you think they will have with the hundreds of customers they touch that day?

Your attitude affects the direction and success of your business every single day.

What’s interesting is that most of the time, positive an negative attitudes are entirely self-created. The world around you is the same from day to day. You make the choice to see it either in a positive light or a negative one. Whomever happens to be sitting in the Oval Office, the world essentially is the same today as it was yesterday. Only your outlook has changed. If you have concerns about your business, if you have real problems to solve, then focus on finding solutions for those specific concerns and problems. Don’t waste time and energy worrying about “what if” questions that may never turn into real issues for you. Even if you are a hard-core Republican, understand that President-elect Obama’s policies, beliefs and actions will not have a direct impact on your business anymore than if you had voted for him. Unless you are a Fortune 100 company, the who the President of the United States happens to be has pretty much zero impact on your business. Your fears in regards to what Obama will do in office are still in the realm of imagination. Until something actually happens to affect your business, you are worrying about nothing.

It’s kind of like this: You’re a knight and around you is a small band of foot soldiers looking to you for leadership. Ahead of you is a dark forest you have to cross. You’ve heard that the forest is teaming with enemy soldiers and ambushes, but your mission is to get to the other side. What do you do? Do you figure out the best way to deal with the problem at hand, or do you sit there and worry about other things that may or may not come to be someday that have zero bearing on your immediate situation? You’re letting dragons and ogres (imaginary creatures) distract you from your real issues. Pretty silly when you look at it that way right?

Focus on what you can control. Focus on what you know. Focus on what you can see and affect now: Bringing more value to your customers. Increasing traffic to your website or stores. Improving customer service. Improving employee morale. Building strong user communities. Finding better ways to engage with your customers, boost customer loyalty, and build the foundations of a stronger brand. There are ways you can cut costs without cutting corners. There are ways to cut costs and keep all of your staff employed. There are ways to cut costs and actually grow your business. Find them. Every problem facing your business today is either an opportunity for you to leap ahead tomorrow, or an excuse to fail.

There will always be obstacles in your path. The odds will always be against you. The world will always conspire to make you fail. Cheaper imports, bigger competitors, better tools somewhere else, better tax breaks across the river, lower rent down the street… There will always be dark woods ahead filled with unseen enemies. Get used to it. It’s just how the world works. New elections, the economy, competition, new technologies transforming your industry, all of these things are part of the game. Your attitude will determine whether or not these obstacles and challenges help you build the next chapter in your company’s fascinating success story, or its sad conclusion.

Leadership Lesson: Taking the initiative always gives you a tactical advantage. The alternative (letting someone else decide your fate for you) is no alternative at all.

Great leaders aren’t usually characterized by uneventful tenures and comfortable lives without challenge. Great leaders are people like Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi and Susan B. anthony, who in spite of overwhelming odds, in spite of the entire world conspiring against them, in spite of being faced with very dark moments of self doubt and despair, managed to embrace the impossible challenges of their times and come out of the woods transformed, cleansed of their fears, and most importantly: victorious.

As a business leader, you will be tested in the coming months. No question. The coming year will probably be the most trying of your entire career. You may work harder than you ever have before, risk more than you ever have before, and want to quit more often than ever before. But you know what, as long as you keep your wits about you, keep your focus on addressing your immediate challenges and keep your eye on making it through, you will. Not only that but you will come out ahead of your less focused and enthusiastic competitors. When you’re old and gray, you’ll be able to look back on this time and understand how it helped define you as a human being and as a leader. And chances are that every ounce of success you enjoy once the economy recovers will lead straight back to the decisions you made during this challenging time in your career. This moment in time WILL define you. How is up to you.

Now that the election drama is over, it’s time to get your head back in the game and give some serious thought to how you can turn immediate challenges into serious opportunities. If you didn’t vote for Barack Obama, don’t let yourself be distracted by negative thoughts and irrational fears. Your future and your company’s future are 100% in your hands. Not Washington’s. Let’s all put politics aside now and get back to the business of getting the economy back on track, starting with you.

So tell me: What is the biggest problem facing your business today?

How can those of us who know how to help businesses grow and prosper (my blogroll is only the tip of the iceberg) help you get through thee challenging times? Come on. Talk to me.

Read Full Post »

Okay, so while the Dow hangs out at around 10,000 points, here’s some advice on how to give your business a serious boost without increasing your marketing expenditures (and maybe even reducing them): “Perkonomics: Why perks and privileges are the new currency” over at TrendWatching.com (hat tip to AdPulp) is a pretty interesting take on how to increase customer loyalty and create a buzz for your brand even in tough economic times.

“What in blue blazes is perkanomics,” I hear you cry? Hold your horses there Tonto. We’re getting there. According to the folks at TrendWatching.com, perkonomics can be explained thus:

“A new breed of perks and privileges, added to brands’ regular offerings, [which satisfies] consumers’ ever-growing desire for novel forms of status and/or convenience, across all industries. The benefits for brands are equally promising: from escaping commoditization, to showing empathy in turbulent times. One to have firmly on your radar in 2009.”

Did you catch that part about escaping commoditization (not falling into the BOGO trap)? Good. Let’s continue.

TW continues with this:

“Consumer infatuation with perks and privileges isn’t new. For years, airlines, hotels, credit card companies and private banks have been cleverly rewarding their most valuable customers with surprises, status symbols and convenience.

But as we move towards a consumer society that’s based more on experiences, on status stories, on the ephemeral—and in which, for many, time is now the only true scarcity—expect perks and privileges to become an integral part of every B2C industry and sector.”

Perks you might already be familiar with: Frequent flier miles, preferred customer clubs, discount cards, special pricing, express delivery, concierge service, complementary XYZ, free upgrades, shorter checkout lines, convenient parking, etc. Essentially, the perkonomics idea takes the simple concept of “loyalty rewards” to the next step: Brand-related social elevation (however ephemeral it may be). The dot-connect end-to-end: “My loyalty to Brand ABC makes me more special than people who don’t share the same relationship with the brand.”

The result (if done right):

  • Perks bring much-needed love (if not FREE LOVE), in upturns and downturns, potentially leading to more ‘brand love’. (I hate to call it brand loyalty, but at the very least, it encourages a very strong brand preference.)
  • Perks help commodity-like industries stand out by conferring a (renewed) sense of uniqueness. Adding perks often requires the ability to partner with other products or services, so brands with the best partnering skills—and therefore access to the best exclusive offers—will win.
  • Perks can give you the leading edge when it comes to attracting first-time customers.
  • Perks can make for great if not invaluable PR [and positive WOM]; customers will tell others—perks are excellent conversation starters—while the media (trend watchers included) love a good perk story.
  • Perks can help make boring companies interesting again, and thus more desirable.
  • Perks can help cultivate more desirable brand perceptions and associations—think anything from showing you actually care about your customers (gasp!) to showing you care about the environment, offering eco-perks.

From a business opportunity standpoint, focusing on perks can absolutely give you an edge when it comes to differentiating your brand from others even if your products are not superior, and by doing so may be the only way to elevate a brand without actually making improvements outside of “delighting” loyal customers. The trick is to do it in such a way that doesn’t come across either as a ploy to get more information out of them, and two, in a way that doesn’t require them to jump through hoops. Perks are perks. If perks start to become hassles, they stop being perks. A “delight the customer” mentality and focus across all touch points is absolutely vital to the success of such a program. The second a customer expecting a perk gets the runaround from a disgruntled or less-than-ready-to-serve company brand ambassador, you’re done for. (Managing human touch points well is one of the trickiest aspects of delivering on the promise of perkonomics.)

Additionally:

PERKONOMICS is an aspirational trend; i.e. a trend that generously offers you—marketer, entrepreneur, brand manager—the chance to be a trendsetter, especially if you work in a sector or industry not yet big on perks.

And as perks are about delighting and surprising consumers, you should have no trouble coming up with a few quick ideas that can be implemented immediately and cost-efficiently. Talking about costs: as perks are an integral part of your marketing strategy, shifting a part of your mass-advertising budget to get some PERKONOMICS innovations off the ground is more than justified.

Check out the entire report here. And please, please, please, when you start looking into ways to incorporate some of these ideas into your marketing plan, don’t end up settling for 5% discount coupons and dime-store “prizes” with your logo printed on them. (Trade show giveaway pens, decals and buttons don’t even come close to perks.) Take this as seriously as you take the success of your brand.

If you need help figuring out how to do this, give me a call or shoot me an email. I’ll be happy to help or hook you up with someone who can.

Have a great Tuesday!

Photo by Chris Wray-McCann

Read Full Post »

(Corporate leaps of faith rock my world.) photo by toimaginetoo

I like to go back to the archives every once in a while – partly because I’m a little crunched for time these days, but mostly because the vault contains some pretty solid posts that you guys might never had the opportunity to read. I originally wrote this post for the Corante Marketing Hub, back when I was its online editor.

Back then, Grant McCracken had pointed us to Coca Cola’s apparent then-new shift to the long tail:

“Given its pending portfolio of coffee soda, gourmet teas and Godiva drinks, Coca-Cola is expected to expend more time and energy on low-volume, high-margin categories than ever. (…)

Rather than look at beverages on a category by category basis, Mary Minnick, head of marketing, innovation and strategic growth, has said Coke is looking at how beverages fit into consumers lives. She has described the need states as, “Enjoyment today,” “feel good today,” and “be well tomorrow.”

– Kenneth Hein, from Strategy: Coke Seeks Relief (Again) By Scratching The Niche. (Adweek. March 06, 2006.)

And that seemed fine and good and all, but… whatever happened to… just… great taste?

When I order a latte from my favorite coffee shop or buy a bottle of Orangina or and IBC cream soda, it isn’t because of “enjoyment today,” “feel good today,” and “be well tomorrow.” It isn’t because of clever packaging or image or transference or projection. It’s because I’m in the mood for a particular flavor. This is about mood and palates and lifestyles, not “feeling good” and “being well”.

Oh, I know… I don’t have TCCC’s millions of dollars of research at my fingertips… but you know what? I’m wired just like everyone else, and I know why I buy drinks. I know why my friends and colleagues buy drinks. They like the taste. They look for context. Catch-phrases have nothing to do with it.

You can make any study and any set of numbers and statistics and results say anything you want. Especially when you have a whole lot of time and money invested in new products whose development needs to be justified to a board of directors.

Could this be a case of the tail wagging the dog? (TCCC’s need for some kind of ROI from its product development programs?) Is TCCC’s real strategy just a numbers’ game? Is it to throw as many products at us and see if anything sticks? Where ten years ago, none of these new drinks might have ever seen the light of day, now they’ve found a chance at life in “the long tail.” Could this just be a front? I guess the question is worth asking, even though I’ll assume – for the sake of this discussion – that this isn’t the case.

TCCC, here’s a tip: Drop the gimmicks. Focus on taste. Whether you love wines, beers bubble teas or kefirs, it always comes down to flavor. Most people who choose to drink Coca Cola do so because they prefer it over the taste of Pepsi. It isn’t because the cans are red or because Coca Cola makes them feel happy or look cool. (The glass bottles might be the exception.) The taste, before anything else, is at the core of the Coca Cola experience.

Whether you’re The Coca Cola Company or a startup with a great idea for a product, before you spend millions overthinking your strategy, just focus on making a really great product. One that people will love to discover and use and talk about. If you love it, chances are that lots of people out there will love it too. If you really want to grab hold of the long tail, you have to start with you. The game isn’t about pleasing everyone – or the majority of “the market” (which has been TCCC’s strategy for decades). It’s about creating a product for a very specific core of rabid fans/customers.

The trick though, is this: You can’t do it by trying to fill a need based on market research (American women between the ages of 32 and 46 with a median annual income of $68-97K responded favorably to XYZ… yadayadaya…). It’s what TCCC has been doing for years, without much success. It’s what everybody’s been doing too. It’s what you do if you want to be an “also in”. Your only recourse once you’ve greenlighted a new product launch is to outspend your competitors in everything from advertising to POP displays to licensing rights, and then try to hang on as long as you can. It’s ridiculous.

The right way to do this is to do the work. The real work: Instead of quantifying a culture, penetrate it. The supertool here isn’t statistics, it’s anthropology. Here’s another tip: the moment you start quantifying tastes, you’ve lost your focus and drifted back to the lukewarm center, just like everyone else. This is the easiest mistake to make, and also the most common.

The way you develop a chocolate-flavored drink isn’t by talking to 10,000 people on the street. It’s by talking to 10,000 chocoholics. These might even be people who love chocolate but hate chocolate drinks. (How cool would it be to have 10,000 people with such specific tastes tell you why they love chocolate but hate chocolate drinks? Tell me you wouldn’t crack that code with that level of feedback.)

The point is: Do your research at the extreme edge of the bell curve.

The way you develop a new endurance drink is by talking to rabid cyclists and triathletes and marathoners. The way you develop a new game console is by talking to avid gamers (not casual gamers). The way you develop a new Pop Tart flavor is by talking to people for whom Pop Tarts is a major food group. This isn’t about talking to 0.3% of American shoppers who are representative of the 60% of shoppers who place Pop Tarts in their Top 10 likeliest breakfast foods. It’s about talking to the fraction of a percent of people who live and breathe the stuff that is at the core of your new product’s identity and raison d’etre and will buy your new flavor of Pop Tarts every other week.

Not just talking to them, but understanding what makes them tick and embracing them completely.

The long tail, after all, isn’t about markets. It’s about cultures. Subcultures, even. The more specific, the better. Think skateboarders. Think triathletes. Think online gamers. Think photography hobbyists. You either become a central part of those cultures, or you go home packing.

(Incidentally, the Pop Tart team absolutely gets it.)

If TCCC wants to grab hold of the long tail and make its new strategy work, it needs to un-Coke itself. It needs to shed the TCCC formula where these offshoot brands are concerned. It needs to create truly independent subsidiaries staffed by people who live inside the cultures they are trying to cater to, and completely outside the reach of the Coca Cola culture.

Think of it as United Artists trying to produce “independent” films with $100,000 budgets. The only way they could do it well would be to create a smaller studio managed and staffed by people who live, eat and breathe the indy culture… and let them do their thing without corporate interference, bureaucracy and big business politics. Anything short of that would result in total and utter failure.

Remember Coca Cola Blak? That was the type of product Mary Minnick was talking about: Low volume, high margin (wishful thinking if your product is perceived merely as water, natural and artificial flavoring, food coloring and high fructose corn syrup… and doesn’t taste so unbelievably good that it will make people want to trade their current favorite flavor for it). TCCC going after the Starbucks crowd with Blak may have seemed like a good idea on paper, and I guess it was worth the shot (no pun intended). It might even have worked had the price point matched the perceived value of a Coca Cola retail product.

Blak launched in 2006, when his piece was written… and finally died a few months ago after a long painful battle with dismal sales and lack of interest. (Most likely due to its very high pricepoint – holding true to Mary’s strategy – than its missing the boat on taste. Red Bull doesn’t exactly taste delicious, yet it has found its market. Draw your own conclusions.)

Beware business plans that look great on paper and are based on top-down (wishful) thinking. Successful entrepreneurs (and their projects) usually do a whole lot better when their ideas come from the bottom of the distribution tree: See a need, fill a need. (That includes understanding the pricepoint-value perception feedback loop.)

Truly understanding your customers, your users, your future fans (your market), heck, actually getting back to becoming one of them is the only way to discover your next great game changing idea. The rest, as they say, is up to you.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone.

Read Full Post »

Ever noticed how positive attitudes are infectious? You walk into a store, and everyone who works there is jazzed and happy to be there and energetic… and by the time you leave, you have completely adopted their mood?

Ever noticed that the opposite is also true: Walk into a business where everyone is negative or apathetic, and you find yourself feeling the same dread and negativity?

Sitting in Houston’s Toyota arena with thousands of the world’s most innovative Microsoft partners, I was reminded of the power that other people’s attitudes and moods have over our own – and remembered a post that Kathy Sierra shared many moons ago on her brilliant but now sadly defunct “Passionate Users” blog. It talked about happy vs. angry people, emotional contagion, and the role mirror neurons play in our involuntary tendency to be drawn into other people’s positive or negative attitudes. Very cool stuff, and particularly relevant to some of the discussions I have been involved with in the last few days with some of my international peers. I did some quick digging to find it so I could share it with you. Here are some of the highlights:

Mirror neurons and our innate tendency to pick up other people’s behaviors, good and bad.

There is now strong evidence to suggest that humans have the same type of “mirror neurons” found in monkeys. It’s what these neurons do that’s amazing–they activate in the same way when you’re watching someone else do something as they do when you’re doing it yourself! This mirroring process/capability is thought to be behind our ability to empathize, but you can imagine the role these neurons have played in keeping us alive as a species. We learn from watching others. We learn from imitating (mirroring) others. The potential problem, though, is that these neurons go happily about their business of imitating others without our conscious intention.

Think about that…

Although the neuroscientific findings are new, your sports coach and your parents didn’t need to know the cause to recognize the effects:

“Choose your role models carefully.”
“Watching Michael Jordan will help you get better.”
“You’re hanging out with the wrong crowd; they’re a bad influence.”
“Don’t watch people doing it wrong… watch the experts!”

We’ve all experienced it. How often have you found yourself sliding into the accent of those around you? Spend a month in England and even a California valley girl sounds different. Spend a week in Texas and even a native New Yorker starts slowing down his speech. How often have you found yourself laughing, dressing, skiing like your closest friend? Has someone ever observed that you and a close friend or significant other had similar mannerisms? When I was in junior high school, it was tough for people to tell my best friends and I apart on the phone–we all sounded so much alike that we could fool even our parents.

But the effect of our innate ability and need to imitate goes way past teenage phone tricks. Spend time with a nervous, anxious person and physiological monitoring would most likely show you mimicking the anxiety and nervousness, in ways that affect your brain and body in a concrete, measurable way. Find yourself in a room full of pissed off people and feel the smile slide right off your face. Listen to people complaining endlessly about work, and you’ll find yourself starting to do the same. How many of us have been horrified to suddenly realize that we’ve spent the last half-hour caught up in a gossip session–despite our strong aversion to gossip? The behavior of others we’re around is nearly irresistible.

Why choosing who you work, play and hang out with matters.

When we’re consciously aware and diligent, we can fight this. But the stress of maintaining that conscious struggle against an unconscious, ancient process is a non-stop stressful drain on our mental, emotional, and physical bandwidth. And no, I’m not suggesting that we can’t or should’nt spend time with people who are angry, negative, critical, depressed, gossiping, whatever. Some (including my sister and father) chose professions (nurse practitioner and cop, respectively) that demand it. And some (like my daughter) volunteer to help those who are suffering (in her case, the homeless). Some people don’t want to avoid their more hostile family members. But in those situations–where we choose to be with people who we do not want to mirror–we have to be extremely careful! Nurses, cops, mental health workers, EMTs, social workers, red cross volunteers, fire fighters, psychiatrists, oncologists, etc. are often at a higher risk (in some cases, WAY higher) for burnout, alcoholism, divorce, stress, or depression unless they take specific steps to avoid getting too sucked in to be effective.

So, when Robert says he wants to spend time hanging around “happy people” and keeping his distance from “deeply unhappy” people, he’s keeping his brain from making–over the long term–negative structural and chemical changes. Regarding the effect of mirror neurons and emotional contagion on personal performance, neurologist Richard Restak offers this advice:

“If you want to accomplish something that demands determination and endurance, try to surround yourself with people possessing these qualities. And try to limit the time you spend with people given to pessimism and expressions of futility. Unfortunately, negative emotions exert a more powerful effect in social situations than positive ones, thanks to the phenomena of emotional contagion.”

This sounds harsh, and it is, but it’s his recommendation based on the facts as the neuroscientists interpret them today. This is not new age self-help–it’s simply the way brains work.

Emotional Contagion explained.

Steven Stosny, an expert on road rage, is quoted in Restak’s book:

“Anger and resentment are thet most contagious of emotions,” according to Stonsy. “If you are near a resentful or angry person, you are more prone to become resentful or angry yourself. If one driver engages in angry gestures and takes on the facial expressions of hostility, surrounding drivers will unconsciously imitate the behavior–resulting in an escalation of anger and resentment in all of the drivers. Added to this, the drivers are now more easily startled as a result of the outpouring of adrenaline accompanying their anger. The result is a temper tantrum that can easily escalate into road rage.”

From a paper on Memetics and Social Contagion,

“…social scientific research has largely confirmed the thesis that affect, attitudes, beliefs and behavior can indeed spread through populations as if they were somehow infectious. Simple exposure sometimes appears to be a sufficient condition for social transmission to occur. This is the social contagion thesis; that sociocultural phenomena can spread through, and leap between, populations more like outbreaks of measles or chicken pox than through a process of rational choice.”

Emotional contagion is considered one of the primary drivers of group/mob behavior, and the recent work on “mirror neurons” helps explain the underlying cause. But it’s not just about groups. From a Cambridge University Press book:

“When we are talking to someone who is depressed it may make us feel depressed, whereas if we talk to someone who is feeling self-confident and buoyant we are likely to feel good about ourselves. This phenomenon, known as emotional contagion, is identified here, and compelling evidence for its affect is offered from a variety of disciplines – social and developmental psychology, history, cross-cultural psychology, experimental psychology, and psychopathology.”

[For a business management perspective, see the Yale School of Management paper titled The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion In Groups]

Can any of us honestly say we haven’t experienced emotional contagion? Even if we ourselves haven’t felt our energy drain from being around a perpetually negative person, we’ve watched it happen to someone we care about. We’ve noticed a change in ourselves or our loved ones based on who we/they spend time with. We’ve all known at least one person who really did seem able to “light up the room with their smile,” or another who could “kill the mood” without saying a word. We’ve all found ourselves drawn to some people and not others, based on how we felt around them, in ways we weren’t able to articulate.

Happy People are better able to think logically

Neuroscience has made a long, intense study of the brain’s fear system–one of the oldest, most primitive parts of our brain. Anger and negativity usually stem from the anxiety and/or fear response in the brain, and one thing we know for sure–when the brain thinks its about to be eaten or smashed by a giant boulder, there’s no time to stop and think! In many ways, fear/anger and the ability to think rationally and logically are almost mutually exclusive. Those who stopped to weigh the pros and cons of a flight-or-fight decision were eaten, and didn’t pass on their afraid-yet-thoughtful genes.

Happines is associated most heavily with the left (i.e. logical) side of the brain, while anger is associated with the right (emotional, non-logical) side of the brain. From a Society for Neuroscience article on Bliss and the Brain:

“Furthermore, studies suggest that certain people’s ability to see life through rose-colored glasses links to a heightened left-sided brain function. A scrutiny of brain activity indicates that individuals with natural positive dispositions have trumped up activity in the left prefrontal cortex compared with their more negative counterparts. “

In other words, happy people are better able to think logically.

And apparently happier = healthier:

“Evidence suggests that the left-siders may better handle stressful events on a biological level. For example, studies show that they have a higher function of cells that help defend the body, known as natural killer cells, compared with individuals who have greater right side activity. Left-sided students who face a stressful exam have a smaller drop in their killer cells than right-siders. Other research indicates that generally left-siders may have lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.”

And while we’re dispelling the Happy=Vacuous myth, let’s look at a couple more misperceptions:

“Happy people aren’t critical.”
“Happy people don’t get angry.”
“Happy people are obedient.”
“Happy people can’t be a disruptive force for change.”

So can Happy and criticism live happily together?

One of the world’s leading experts in the art of happiness is the Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Just about everyone who hears him speak is struck by how, well, happy he is. How he can describe–with laughter–some of the most traumatizing events of his past. Talk about perspective

But he is quite outspoken with his criticism of China. The thing is, he doesn’t believe that criticism requires anger, or that being happy means you can’t be a disruptive influence for good. On happiness, he has this to say:

“The fact that there is always a positive side to life is the one thing that gives me a lot of happiness. This world is not perfect. There are problems. But things like happiness and unhappiness are relative. Realizing this gives you hope.”

And among the “happy people”, there’s Mahatma Gandhi, a force for change that included non-violent but oh-most-definitely-disobedient behavior. A few of my favorite Gandhi quotes:

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings.

The argument for and against anger

But then there’s the argument that says “anger” is morally (and intellectually) superior to “happy”. The American Psychological Association has this to say on anger:

“People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance. They can’t take things in stride, and they’re particularly infuriated if the situation seems somehow unjust: for example, being corrected for a minor mistake.”

Of course it’s still a myth that “happy people” don’t get angry. Of course they do. Anger is often an appropriate response. But there’s a Grand Canyon between a happy-person-who-gets-angry and an unhappy-angry-person. So yes, we get angry. Happiness is not our only emotion, it is simply the outlook we have chosen to cultivate because it is usually the most effective, thoughtful, healthy, and productive.

And there’s this one we hear most often, especially in reference to comment moderation–“if you can’t say whatever the hell you want to express your anger, you can’t be authentic and honest.” While that may be true, here’s what the psychologists say:

“Psychologists now say that this is a dangerous myth. Some people use this theory as a license to hurt others. Research has found that “letting it rip” with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you’re angry with) resolve the situation.

It’s best to find out what it is that triggers your anger, and then to develop strategies to keep those triggers from tipping you over the edge.”

And finally, another Ghandi quote:

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

If the scientists are right, I might also add,

Be around the change you want to see in the world.

Strong organizations and communities are able to harness the power of emotional contagion to create engaging, productive and extremely effective collaborative ecosystems. The truly exceptional among them also manage to extend this collective positivity to their human/customer touchpoints (retail outlets, salespeople, CSRs, etc.). Obvious examples of this are Starbucks (except in airports), Mac Stores, and Whole Foods grocery outlets.

This week, a very large scale example of this (and the trigger for this post) was Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, TX.

The complete opposite of this might be, say, the checkout at Walmart, Home Depot or Taco Bell, a prison ward, or an Vietnamese sweat shop.

Success breeds success. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. Professionalism breeds professionalism.

Likewise, mediocrity breeds mediocrity. Apathy breeds apathy. Negative attitudes breed negative attitudes.

Now you know. What you do with this knowledge is up to you. For me, the choice is pretty simple. Always has been.

Have a great Friday. 😉

photo credit: Christopher Wray McCann

Read Full Post »

So instead, I will just post this haiku:

GM US sales dropped 18% in june.

Toyota US sales dropped 21% in June.

More imagination is needed.

Source: CNN

With every car and truck and van in the US looking essentially the same and absolutely no effort whatsoever by major car manufacturers to create sexy, well-designed, fuel-efficient, compact cars to give the overpriced mini Cooper and gender-limited VW Bug a run for their money, we are left with a sea of cars no one wants.

Problem #1: Wallet share is tight. Buying a new car in the current economy is already a tough proposition.

Problem #2: Buying a car is an investment. Resale values of vehicles with weak mileage efficiency are dropping fast. Investing in a car today with gas prices looking the way they do (+ market insecurity) means consumers aren’t likely to fork out big bucks for a new car anytime soon.

Problem #3: Our “bigger is better” supersize-me attitude needs to change. The days of the macho-by-horsepower association are coming to a close. Deal with it.

Problem #4: Auto manufacturers are not reacting quickly enough to the oil crisis. (As if it wasn’t always coming. Didn’t anyone have a Plan-B? Really?)

Problem #5: Most cars don’t have a purpose or an identity. Nissan’s X-Terra’s success 8 years ago was due to the fact that it had a very clear place in the pantheon of vehicles. Same with the H2, the Mini Cooper, and the VW bug. Today’s contenders are Toyota’s FJ Cruiser and to some extent the H3, but that’s about it. Every other SUV is just another copy of a copy of a copy. Ford’s Mustang GT fills the muscle car void fairly well, but we aren’t exactly talking middle of the bell curve here. Crossovers are a nice concept, but I have a tough time getting excited by any new design – they’re all the same. Ergo: I’m bored just trying to think of an interesting or unique car i am jonesing for under $30K.

There is a clear absence of imagination in the auto industry, at least in the US. derivative designs create an “also-in” design culture that offers no clear value to anyone. Sure, I can get excited about Aston Martin or Bugati’s latest supercars, but when I look at cars I can actually afford – the middle of the bell curve – what am I left with? Where is the sexy, smart, well designed sub-$20K car with great gas mileage and suite of electronic interfaces I have been asking for? Where are my power outlets for laptops and media player recharges? (Real outlets, not cigarette lighter outlets.) Where is my built-in hands-free system for my phone? Where is my media player plug-in?

I’m not saying that we should all adopt the euro supercompact-car concept (although if you live in the city, don’t have any kids, and absolutely need a car, perhaps you should consider one), but there is a healthy compromise that can be met. Why is it that we aren’t seeing it yet? Every compact car on the market that isn’t a mini or a bug is manufactured on the cheap and designed on the quick. This needs to change.

Cars should always be cool. They should always be more than just a set of wheels to go to work or to the store. I’m not sure when the industry shifted to a zero personality model, but auto makers need to turn this around. Cars with personalities sell. Period. They sell because they stand for something. They help their owners express who they are. Identity development needs to become part of every new car design – not just at the brand level (a BMW is a BMW /a Mercedes is a Mercedes) but at the level of the individual model. Scion has adopted the concept 100%, but its designs look like someone got a hold of ten-year-old early concept drafts from 2-3 automakers and actually turned them into production cars without making any changes. (Right idea: Unique models for unique uses, but horrible execution: Not a whole lot of curb appeal, and heinously derivative designs.)

Is it really THAT hard to get this right?

Here’s what the next big auto hit looks like:

1. It has so much personality, it could be a Mac. (Sorry, I’m supposed to be the PC guy, but we all know where “cool” lives these days.)

2. It looks GREAT. Not just good, but GREAT. People want to rent it from hertz and budget and Avis. Your friends want to drive it when you show it off at your next together. People on the street stare at it when you drive by.

3. The interior is a mix between the cockpit of a 1930’s rallye speedster and the cabin of a brand spanking new custom Leer jet.

4. Real power outlets. Media player interfaces. Hands free wireless interface. Just do it.

5. MPG superstar status. Make it part of the car’s identity. Not an afterthought, but at the very core of the car’s purpose.

6. $12K-$18K is the sweet spot. It’s a compact.

7. But make it look, feel and perform like a $30K+ car.

8. Invent something smarter than a cool cup holder. Like a built-in passive cabin ventilation system for really hot summer days. Or a slot for a portable hard drive inside the dashboard. Or a fully insulated trunk compartment for laptops, cameras and other electronics. Or accessible + concealable storage compartments for passengers. Or a new seat adjustment interface. Or yeah… a better cup holder.

Europeans have been designing very cool, high performance compact cars for decades. Look to Renault, Citroen, Opel and Peugeot, for starters. Even mercedes sells compact cars in Europe now.

Think, guys. Dream a little. Invent something that brings value to the market. More importantly, make your brand, your designs and your every conversation with us, the people who should be dreaming about driving your cars, stand for something. Give us something to desire and crave and get excited about.

A 20% drop in sales might be great for your car lease units, but that isn’t where you want to be. Wake up and do something.

Read Full Post »

Today’s bit of Marketing, Customer Experience, Design & Product Development advice comes from the archives of Kathy Sierra‘s blog:

“Your job is to anticipate… To give them what they want and/or what they need just before they have to “ask” for it – to be surprising yet self-evident at the same time. If you are too far behind, or too far ahead of them, you create problems, but if you are right with them, leading them ever so slightly, the flow of events feels natural and exciting at the same time.”

Walter Murch

iPod wasn’t designed by users. It was designed for users. No… wait… it was designed to be loved by users.

If your job deals with customer experience design, (product, web, retail, customer service, touchpoint ideation, advertising, etc.) print either the sentence that came just before this paragraph or Walter Murch’s bit of wisdom, and pin it to your office wall. Either one can (and probably should) become your new mantra.

Technorati Thingamajingies: , , , .

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »