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Archive for the ‘competitive edge’ Category

Every doctrine has to start somewhere. Even this one.

Want to boost your repeat business, get tons of free referrals, acquire bunches of new customers and get lots of positive buzz for free? There’s a pretty simple way to do it that doesn’t have to cost you a whole lot. Can you guess what it is?

Simple: Purge your company of assholes.

In fact, let me share item #1 in my Better Business Doctrine with you real quick. Are you ready? Here we go:

The customer-facing organization with the fewest assholes wins.

That’s it.

A simple example, from the friendly skies.

Does this seem like common sense? Of course it does. And yet here we are, routinely forced to endure a passive-aggressive or plain argumentative jerks who would rather exercise their “authority” than provide customers – even stressed out customers – with pleasant experiences. Why is that? Let me answer that question: Because companies are still hiring assholes.

Let me give you a few personal examples:

1a. The Continental flight I was on a few months ago

Flight Attendant (sternly) to a passenger in the process of turning off their iPad, just not quickly enough: “SIR! I need you to turn that off right now!” (Stares angrily at passenger until the device is turned off, and walks away, visibly annoyed.)

This probably happens to flight crews 20+ times per day. Every time a plane pushes off from the gate and prepares its approach, passengers in the middle of a song, of a paragraph, of a game of Angry Birds or Brick Breaker take an extra 10-30 seconds to “comply” with the “please turn off your electronic devices at this time” announcement on the PA. I get it. It probably gets annoying after a while. But guess what: You’re a flight attendant. Asking people to turn off their electronic toys comes with the job. You don’t have to be an asshole about it. Case in point:

1b: The Delta flight I was on the following day

– Flight Attendant (with a smile, jokingly) to a passenger so absorbed by what he was reading that he missed the “turn off your electronic devices” announcement and kept his Kindle going: “Good book?”

– Passenger, sensing that he was the object of the flight attendant’s attention, looks up from his device: “I’m sorry?”

– Flight Attendant, nonchalantly points at the Kindle: “Good reading?”

– Passenger, smiling back: “Yeah. Very!” (Gets it. Laughs. Starts to look for the “off” button.)

– Flight attendant: “You can turn it back on as soon as we’re on the ground.” (Walks away. Stops. Turns around.) “The book. What is it?”

Passenger answers. Flight attendant repeats the title as if to remember it, nods as if interested, and returns to his station.

The difference between the two isn’t training or pay. It isn’t corporate policy or procedure. It isn’t even company culture. The difference between the two occurrences is this:

One of these flight attendants, at some point during the course of her day, week, month, year or career, decided to let her asshole flag fly. The other one didn’t.

The basic impact of an asshole on your customers

How every asshole on your payroll affects your brand equity and impacts your business on a daily basis.

The impact of just one asshole’s behavior in a customer-facing role doesn’t stop with the one customer they treat poorly. Ten rows of passengers witnessed the exchanges on both flights, and I can guarantee that the ten rows on the Continental flight (30 passengers) were not impressed, while those on the Delta flight surely were. The ramifications of this are simple:

Whatever shot Continental had at influencing these 30 people to develop a preference for flying its friendly skies, for being more loyal, for looking to book future flights with them first, just flew out the window, not because of price, not because of delays, not because the plane was dirty. The price was great. The plane left on time and was impeccable. Continental did everything right except one thing: Someone there allowed an asshole (and probably more than one) to take on a key customer service role. Delta, on the other hand, scored some points.

And just to be fair, I’ve run into my fair of assholes working for Delta too. Few domestic US airlines seem immune to this phenomenon these days, except for perhaps Alaska Air, whose service and hiring practices, to my knowledge are still impeccable.

That said, my experience with Delta flight crews recently has been stellar, and not just because of this little anecdote. (Expect another post about what else happened very soon.) The difference between the two airlines for me was limited to my experience, as it is for all of us. Before the recommendations and the word-of-mouth and the marketing, our own experience shapes our bias.

Every positive experience creates positive associations with a brand, while every negative experience creates a negative association with a brand. More positive than negative = positive bias, preference, even loyalty. Consistent negative experiences (especially those that repeat themselves, like frequent delays, rude employees, apathetic managers, or being talked down to by an unprofessional asshole) = negative bias, preference for your competitors instead of you, and cynicism towards your brand.

The wheels of this mental equation – more emotional than empirical – start turning every time the thought of your brand comes up, and you need to understand it isn’t linear. The way we process the negative and the positive isn’t as balanced as you might think. For whatever reason, until you have grown into a loyal fan of the brand, the equation tends to be heavily weighed towards the negative: What you did right six months ago – or for the last thirty years,- doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you did wrong yesterday or just last week. That’s part 1 of how the mental math of brand experiences work. Part 2 is this: People will easily forgive incidents and accidents: Lost luggage, no available upgrades, long lines at the counter, mechanical problems, etc. Those things are out of your control, and once the anger and frustration subside, they’ll get it. Those negative impressions will evaporate. But one thing customers won’t forgive of any company: Being deliberately treated badly by an asshole.

Just as being an asshole  is a choice, – especially when dealing with a customer – hiring an asshole and keeping them on staff is also a choice. Because of this immutable fact, every company bears its part of responsibility in the hiring and promoting of assholes. Customers instinctively understand this, which is why when they run into one of your company’s assholes, they don’t blame the asshole for treating them poorly, they blame you. They blame the brand. The negative association they take home with them isn’t with that person (whose name and face they will forget inside of a week), but with you. Your assholes are faceless. All customers remember is the context: You. Your company. Your brand. The asshole just goes on being an asshole day after day, happy to have a job that pays him – even rewards him – for being a complete raging asshole all day long.

At the end of their shift, what you have to understand is that assholes in your employ don’t lose customers. You do. You spend your resources bringing them to the cash register, and every asshole on your staff spends all day making sure they never come back.

For this reason if none other, choose and evaluate your employees carefully.

The impact of just one asshole - amplified by social media

The real cost of letting assholes poison your brand from the inside.

If you are in business and have employees, let me be VERY clear about this: You are always only one asshole away from losing your best customer. The more assholes you have on staff, the faster and more often this will happen.

Not only that, but assholes tend to turn off, not only the one customer they happen to be unpleasant to, but everyone within earshot as well.

And today, ladies and gentlemen, “within earshot” isn’t just the ten rows on the plane or the ten people in the store waiting to check out. It is also potentially the hundreds of thousands of Facebook and Twitter users who might get a glimpse of that negative experience and be turned off in turn. Even millions, for that matter. (See previous 2 images, inspired by David Armano’s “Influence Ripples” theory (Edelman), below:)

David Armano's "Influence Ripples" (Edelman)

Let me give this a financial angle for you: Over the course of a year, one asshole on your staff, just one, can invalidate every dime your company has spent on advertising, marketing and PR. That’s the real liability of assholes. For small businesses, an asshole might only cost you $10,000 in wasted marketing, messaging or brand positioning. If you’re a bigger company, the same asshole (or a whole army of them, which is more likely) could cost you hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted marketing and brand management dollars.

That was part 1 of that equation. Part 2 is measured in lost revenue from disappointed customers taking their business elsewhere (your competitors thank you), lost revenue from all of the net new customers delighted customers would have recommended you to (but didn’t, because your assholes chased them away), and so on.

As a result, the higher the proportion of assholes to caring professionals a company has on staff, the more likely it is to have to spend more and more on marketing (with increasingly diminishing returns), while customer retention falls flat and even starts to dip into the red. Assholes aren’t just bad for customer service or your brand’s image. Assholes are bad for business. They are a counter-current to your hopes and dreams. They are the cancer that first weighs you down, then eventually makes your brand begin to fail, then wither, then die.

So let me repeat today’s lesson: The customer-facing organization with the least amount of assholes wins.

Don’t believe me? Ask Zappos. If you have never heard of Zappos, they sell shoes on the internet. That’s it. Well… LOTS of shoes. So many in fact that Amazon bought them for a pretty penny. Not only that, but Amazon decided not to make any major changes to Zappos’ leadership or culture. They left Zappos alone because the model works well just as it is. What’s Zappos’ secret? The customer experiences they create are stellar. Why are they stellar? Because Zappos pretty much has a “no asshole on staff” policy. Their hiring practices focus on this, and for good reason: They know that a happy customer is a loyal customer.

The simple truth (and we all know this) is that happy customers are good for business. In fact, no. They are GREAT for business: The happier a customer is, the more likely it is that they will come back, spend more, spend more often, and recommend you to all their friends. This is what you want. This is what makes businesses insanely successful. This. You don’t have to invent the iPad to be a huge success. Zappos just sells shoes on the internet. Virgin Airlines just flies people from airport to airport. Intercontinental Hotels (disclosure: client) are basically just… hotels. We’re not talking space walks or time travel, here. Your favorite restaurant, your favorite coffee shop, your favorite mechanic, none of them necessarily reinvented the wheel, right? They didn’t win a Nobel prize for revolutionizing their industries. No. What they did was this: They figured out that a happy customer is good for business, so they focused on that. They earned your trust, your respect and your loyalty. Want to know how they did that? By giving you theirs.

Let me let you in on a little secret: An asshole doesn’t think that way. An asshole doesn’t think about happy customers. He doesn’t care about happy customers. An asshole only thinks about himself: His own mood, his own frustrations, his own personal dramas, his own power trips. An asshole doesn’t give anyone their trust, respect or loyalty. Assholes just don’t think that way. And that is precisely the rub: No matter how well you pay them, you can’t make assholes give a shit. And that is bad for business. Very bad.

A fork in the road for every organization:

Do you know one way to make sure your customers are always happy? Only hire people who want your customers to be happy too. People who want to be helpful, who want to fix problems, who take pride in making someone’s day better instead of worse. People who genuinely want to see the company do well. People with pride and self respect and ambition beyond their own bank account or advancement. Do you think this is too hard? It isn’t. Just hire better.

Want to guess how to guarantee that your customers will not be happy? Hire assholes to take care of them. (It works every time.)

That’s your choice: Door A or Door B.

Door A: Hire super nice, helpful people and your business will soar.

Door B: Hire assholes, and your business will forever struggle to stay afloat.

Every time you run into one of your employees (or candidates) and he or she acts like an asshole, I want you to think about that. I want you to think about how much harder you want to have to work to make your business successful once they start pissing off every customer and client they come in contact with.

Taking a step back so you can see your entire business now, how many assholes do you really want on your payroll, and how many customers do you want to put them in front of? Pull out a piece of paper and write down a number. Do it. Write it down. How many assholes do you want on your payroll?

Next to that number, write down how many assholes you have on your payroll now. Go through your mental org chart, and start counting them in your head. When you’re done, write down how many assholes you know are in your company right now. If that number is higher than the first number you wrote down, you have some cleaning up to do.

In closing, let me leave you with the top 5 ways to make sure that your company starts becoming asshole-proof.

Top 5 ways of asshole-proofing your company:

1. Don’t hire assholes. They are bad for business, and they breed inside organizations like weeds.

2. Don’t promote assholes. The only thing worse than an asshole is an asshole with authority (including the authority to hire and promote assholes when you aren’t paying attention).

3. Give your current assholes the “opportunity” to go work for your fiercest competitor. Do this immediately. Make sure the door doesn’t hit them in the ass on their way out.

4. Once removed, replace your former assholes with nice, smart friendly people. (They’re out there and they want to work for you, but your assholes probably already turned them down. Go find them and invite them back.)

5. Reward all of your employees for NOT being assholes.

That just about takes care of it for today. Any questions?

Inspired (in a good way) by conversations with Julien Smith, Geoff Livingston, Keith BurtisChris Brogan, Kristi Colvin, Tyler Durden, Jeffrey Jacobs, Peter Shankman, among others.

*          *          *

And in case you haven’t picked one up yet (or your favorite client seems to be having trouble figuring out how to bring social media into their organization), you can pick up a fresh copy of Social Media ROI at fine book stores everywhere. If you have sworn off paper, you can also download it for iPad, Kindle, Nook or other e-formats at www.smroi.net.

Tip: Leave it sitting conspicuously on your desk when your boss does his rounds. It seems to be a good conversation starter.

(Click here for details, or to sample a free chapter.)

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I was inspired by Chris Brogan’s post today in which he discusses confidence and conviction. Before you read my comment (below), go check out his post and come back. Here are some highlights:

The guest at the table next to mine asked their server, “What do you think of the halibut special?”

The server replied, “I’m not really sure. What did you have in mind when you came in? You know, people really are much happier when they have something in mind. I think it’s okay. I’ve sold a lot of it. I haven’t personally tried it, but it looks good.”

All I was thinking was, if I were the server, I’d say this:

“It’s a great presentation: crispy top and served over our lime rice. I’ve sold lots of it today.”

[…]

No waffling allowed.

Confidence and conviction are the key to many things in life.

A frequent critic (and someone I admire a lot), Ben Kunz, once said something like this about me (not his exact words): “What I hate most about you is that you always sound like you know exactly what you’re talking about, and that’s dangerous.”

I took this to be a great compliment. Again, I admire Ben a lot. He doesn’t let me rest on my laurels.

I take great pride in my confidence and conviction in matters that are important to me. I use confidence as a leadership trait all the time. And I admit when I’m wrong as often as is necessary to make those two traits worth a damn.

This got me thinking. This is a pretty important topic, especially given Ben’s “dangerous” comment thrown in. It may not seem like it, but confidence and conviction are two of the most important building blocks of professional competence. And in an “industry” (Social Media) drowning in incompetence, the danger isn’t that someone should speak with conviction about what they are competent in. Incompetence posing as competence is the danger, not confidence and conviction. Here is my response to Chris’ post:

Reminds me of rule #3: Know your sh*t. As a waiter, an executive, a cultural anthropologist, a politician, a teacher, a doctor or whatever. Just know your sh*t. A waiter who hasn’t tasted everything on the menu isn’t taking their job seriously.

Knowing exactly what you’re talking about isn’t dangerous. It just means that when you bother to open your mouth, you aren’t just making monkey noises for the sake of getting attention. You speak with purpose about something you know about. I’ve watched you in action, Chris. If the common advice is to listen 80% of the time and talk 20% of it, you have the uncommon trait of pushing the ratio to its limits: You listen about 95% of the time and talk 5% of it, if that. That tells me that when you DO say something, I had better listen. And so far, even what you think is just improv is still seeped in insight. You have good instincts, Chris. It’s why you rarely say something dumb.

Likewise, when you don’t know something, you have no problem saying “I don’t know but let’s find out,” which takes confidence as well, and lays the foundations for conviction when someone asks the question again next time and you actually know the answer.

With all due respect to Ben, the danger isn’t to speak with confidence and conviction about things you know. The danger is to speak with false confidence and a facade of conviction about things you don’t know well enough. Too many people choose the latter as their MO. You don’t. It’s why I read your stuff.

We saw this last year with the Social Media R.O.I. debacle, which few of the self-professed “experts” and “gurus” who blabbed about the “mysterious” acronym bothered to even look up in wikepedia, much less learn about from a business class or an actual management job. Instead of either learning how to define R.O.I. or (god forbid) tie to a P&L, many just made up their own versions. Others dismissed the need for R.O.I. completely. Precious few admitted that R.O.I. was outside of their expertise, which was the right thing to do. The professional thing to do.

Here’s a tip: Community managers don’t necessarily need to be experts in R.O.I. – Case in point: If you’re an expert in customer service on Twitter, or community management, or online reputation management, speak with confidence and conviction about that. The guy responding to negative comments on facebook doesn’t need to be an expert in doing anything but creating content and managing positive and negative comments. The R.O.I. piece, let it go to someone better equipped and trained to deal with it. Leave the stuff you don’t know to people who DO know. Businesses need real expertise, not smoke and mirrors and made-up “expertise.”

As an aside, you will get a lot further in life by learning how to get good at something than pretending to be good at something you suck at.

Don’t lie. Don’t make it up, hoping you won’t get found out. Learn what you can, be honest about what you know and don’t know yet, and make sure that you know what you’re talking about before opening your mouth. In other words, just know your sh*t.

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Pop quiz: You own or manage a restaurant. A hotel. A coffee shop. A specialty goods store. A hot dog stand. A bank. A movie theater. A shoe store. A gym. A bodega. A hair salon. A sushi bar. A pub. A public park. A swimming pool. A museum. An art gallery. A city. Do you know who the mayor of your business is?

If you don’t, find out today. Right now. Here’s why: It could help your business grow pretty quickly if you play your cards right. More on that in a minute. First, here’s how to find out who has claimed the title of mayor on Foursquare: (Huh? fourwhat? Hang on. We’ll get to that too.)

The How:

Step 1: Go to www.foursquare.com

Step 2: In the search box (top right) enter your business name.

Step 3: When your business information pops up, look to the right of the screen. You will see an icon labeled “mayor”. That’s who the mayor is.

The Now What:

Find out who they are, and you give them the royal treatment next time they come into your store. Let them know you’re paying attention to a) Foursquare, b) whom is taking the time to check in every time they come into your place of business, and c) who is sharing that information (that recommendation) with their friends on Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook.

Think about giving them a discount or a gift while you’re at it. Set up a “mayor parking” spot outside. Treat them like a VIP inside the store. Address them as “Mister Mayor” or “Your Grace,” when they walk in. It’s up to you. Have fun with it. Give them more reasons to like you. It never hurts to reward kindness with kindness, and remember that it is supposed to be fun and rewarding.

The Why:

If you aren’t familiar with Foursquare yet, here it is in a paragraph: It’s a game played on mobile devices. People “check in” to businesses and other locations, and try to accumulate points. In some instances, they win much coveted “badges” (see some examples below).

In other instances, if they are the most frequent visitor of a location (like your store), they are crowned “mayor” of that location. The game is free, works on a variety of mobile platforms, and players have the option to share their check-ins with their network of family and friends on Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook. It’s a silly game, sure, but it is powerful as well. Here’s why:

1. Frequency – Because checking-in is a game, it is fun. That, in and of itself, is reward enough. Mayorships and badges are also rewards for activity on Foursquare. What it means is this: Foursquare gives people an incentive to visit your store more often, just so they can check in. Especially if you are running a promotion aimed at your store’s mayor. As a business, you can thus easily use Foursquare to increase the frequency of visits to your store(s). That equates to more foot traffic, more mindshare, and potentially more sales. (While they’re in your store, they’ll probably buy something.)

2. Reach – In case you missed it earlier, when someone “checks in” to your location, they broadcast that check-in to their various digital networks. Right now, that is mostly Foursquare itself, Twitter and Facebook. This will probably grow over time. But consider that the average american has what… over 200+ “friends” on Facebook? Think about the power of having a single customer broadcast that they are in your restaurant, in your hair salon, in your pub to 200+ of their friends every time they come in. Now multiply that by ten customers. Now multiply that by 100 customers.

Though not technically “active” word of mouth, Foursquare check-ins are still de-facto endorsement of your business. In other words, it isn’t just a question of exposure. A check-in is an affirmation of endorsement. It might as well say “I am here, and I am proud to tell you all that I am doing business here. Come do the same.” That’s the context of a check-in.

Every time one of your customers checks-in and broadcasts that they are doing business with you, they potentially trigger a visit in an average of 200 other potential customers. (Either existing customers or potential customers.)

3. Yield – Of the three, this one is probably the toughest to achieve, but as a measure of loyalty, yield (average purchase amount) can be impacted by foursquare activity. As frequency of visits increases and loyalty follows suit, it is likely that a portion of your customers will escalate their purchase amounts as well. Loyalty can lead to a higher percentage of wallet share, not just through buy rates (frequency) but also higher price-point purchases.

A word on escalation: Take the example of a bike shop. A casual customer may come in once a month and buy some energy bars, a bike jersey and some socks. As this customer is developed into a regular, they start purchasing all of their energy bars from you instead of buying them from several different places. They may also start jonesing for that new pair of cycling shoes and that new helmet they will soon rationalize they need to replace their “old” ones with. If you treat them well and understand their needs, this escalation may lead to a higher dollar purchase like a race wheel upgrade, a carbon-fiber set of handlebars upgrade, a full bike tune-up, or even a brand new bike to start off the new season in style.

Result: In six months to a year, you could potentially turn a casual customer who only bought low-hanging-fruit items in your store to a loyal customer with a habit of dropping large amounts of cash on premium upgrades with you, instead of blowing them on something else.

Note: You cannot escalate yield if you do not have a relationship with your customer. There is no shortcut here. You have to get to know them. You have to become part of their world. This is not something you can do from a corporate office, or from the back of the store. Someone has to interact with them on a human level – both online and offline.

More thoughts on how to leverage Foursquare:

How your business can use Foursquare is up to you. Use your imagination. Try different things. Be clever. Have fun with it. Perhaps you can work with Foursquare to create badges for your business, the way that Bravo, Starbucks, SxSW, Marc Jacobs and several cities (San Francisco, New York, Brooklyn and Chicago) already have. Here is Starbucks’ very own Barista badge. To obtain it, players only need check in at 5 different Starbucks locations:

Imagine the same thing for your business, or banding with retailers in your area to create a badge players could unlock by visiting 5 of your combined locations. You could work with an organization or with a city even, to help promote your business through Foursquare. You don’t have to do it all yourself.

Perhaps you can also create promotions around Foursquare activity, like flashmobs (using your business and a particular sales event to help customers achieve both all-too elusive swarm badges (50 people checking in together and 250 people checking in together.)

Another fun idea: Procure some Foursquare Merit Badges and ceremoniously award them to customers who acquired virtual badges online (see below).

Whatever you choose to do, start at the beginning: Find out who the mayor of your business is, acknowledge that status, and reward it with warmth and gratitude, if not with product.  Next: Create an account and get rolling. It’s your business. Take charge and participate. Welcome to a whole new world of marketing fun. If you’re lucky, you will beat your competitors to it. (Never underestimate first-mover advantage, especially in the age of twitter & facebook real-time word-of-mouth.)

Footnote: I spoke to two retailers yesterday who had never heard of foursquare. One didn’t know that dozens of customers were already checking into their store regularly, and I added the other’s venue because there wasn’t one yet. Guess what: One knows who the mayor of their business is today, and he has a plan now. The other will know as soon as someone becomes the mayor, and is already working on some promotions. We will revisit these two businesses in a few months to see how they fare.

Also check out Gowalla.com while you’re at it. Very much the same thing, and it too is growing.

Additional reading:

Via Mark Van Baale (@markvanbaale on twitter) – “Foursquare sees another big Domino fall

And this great piece via Mashable on Foursquare’s business analytics dashboard.

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Crottes de chiens 1

As I watched Scott Gould, Drew Ellis, Trey Pennington, Daren Forsyth and Maz Nadjm address a capacity crowd at Exeter’s  #LikeMinds conference two weeks ago, it occurred to me that not all conferences are created equal. In fact, I realized that conferences tend to fall into two very distinct categories: Conferences that provide real value, and conferences that provide very little value. Before I go on, let it be said that #LikeMinds falls squarely into the first category.

Since I was one of the speakers at #LikeMinds, it’s natural for some of you to assume that I might be… biased, right? Fair enough. I can understand how you might think that. But the truth is that I have spoken at a number of conferences now, and I have no problem telling you that not all of them have fallen into the “valuable” category. In other words, if #LikeMinds were just another conference with little value, I might not necessarily come out and say so, but I also wouldn’t tell you it is something when it really isn’t.

Moving forward, you can feel pretty confident that I am speaking my mind here, and not giving credit where none or little is due.

LikeMinds '09

LikeMinds '09 R.O.I. panel

So back to the topic at hand: The sold-out Like Minds Conference in Exeter, Devon (UK) on October 16th. The line of attendees outside before the doors officially opened, pretty much wrapping around the block. The impressive roster of speakers and panelists spanning two continents. The spectacular venue. The stunning live video stream. The twitter wall. The specific focus of the event. The global vibe. And perhaps most importantly, the £25 admission fee.

Yes, that’s right. Only £25. And £10 for students, as I recall.

Meanwhile, all across the US, social media-themed conferences typically charge what… $200? $500? $650? And for what? Wait… don’t answer that. We’ll get back to that in a sec.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with conferences, social media or otherwise, charging $200 or even $650 to attendees. All I ask is that in return for those types of fees, these events offer at least $200 or $650 in value (respectively). It’s only fair. Heck, if a conference wants to charge $2,000 for admission, as long as it provides equal or greater value, have at it. In truth, the Social media world needs high level conferences of this type, and I would GLADLY spend $2K to attend a social media summit that actually delivered real value.*

No, my beef with rapidly growing number of “social media conferences” is that their $250 or $650 admission fee only buys attendees about $25 worth of value, as opposed to serious conferences (like #LikeMinds) that easily provide $650 worth of value for a mere £25.

Moreover, the fact that pointless social media conferences seem to be popping up everywhere has me scratching my head and wondering when the idiocy will stop. Let me ask you a simple question: Do we really need a social media conferences every week?

Of course we don’t. But with everyone and their brother suddenly looking to rebrand themselves as social media gurus, the demand for a accelerated conference circuit has hit a kind of fever pitch in 2009, with many organizers and speakers feeding on a self-serving loop of crap. Explained in as few words as I can, the former are looking to make a quick buck off the Social Media craze while the latter are so desperate for exposure that they will do just about anything for ten minutes of it.

Watch this video and we’ll continue the discussion in a few minutes:

If the video doesn’t launch for you, go watch it here.

Okay, now that you’re back, let’s continue our little discussion, starting with some typical low-value conference dynamics:

A. The problem with an increasing number of social media conferences: An upside-down value model

As we just discussed, on the one hand, you have the growing army of would-be social media gurus looking to make a name for themselves. This is the crowd furiously sending emails and DMs to conference organizers, begging them for opportunities to speak at their events to get a few conference gigs on their resumes.

On the other hand, conference organizers see in this endless stream of guru wannabes a welcome cash cow: Those confident enough to speak will gladly fill up session after session of their conference schedules for free in exchange for exposure. Enter the “Return on Engagement”, “Tweet your way to success” and “What will we call Social Media in 2010” breakouts. Wonderful. As if the internet weren’t already filled with these kinds of remedial turds posing as legitimate expertise.

The rest, those not speaking, are evidently more than happy to part with $200+ for the opportunity to rub elbows with internet-famous bloggers and perhaps befriend an A-lister or two in the hopes of raising their own profile in the SM world.

Below, some X-Box Live friends help me illustrate a typical high yield, low value conference model: A small number of speakers with valuable content the organizer actually has to pay isn’t enough to offset the large number of speakers with derivative content who will gladly fill content gaps for free. This model minimizes cost, maximizes profit, and guarantees a relatively low conference value for attendees. This is quickly becoming the norm across North America. No wonder most businesses look upon the social media “crowd” as a joke.

conference 01

When you realize that an event that attracts 400 people at $200 per admission can gross $80,000, it isn’t hard to see why these things are popping up left and right, and for no other reason than to generate revenue. And as long as you, the folks who attend these types of events, are willing to fork out two bills to sit in a series of hotel meeting rooms for the better part of a day to listen to 20-40 minute presentations about how wonderful FaceBook is, how many people use Twitter, or how this company or that organization “engage” with customers using free tools you use in the exact same way and with greater success, these types of pointless events will continue to sprout all over the place. The margins are just too good for people to just stop putting them on out of… professional integrity.

What’s the solution? (Aside from putting on better conferences and events, that is?) A gut check would be a nice start. Stop going to every social media conference on the calendar. Become a little smarter and pickier about your choices. Start by looking at the overall roster of speakers. Then look for an actual point: Does the conference have a topic? A theme? A thread? Or is it just a mash of speakers covering every topic from how to network on LinkedIn to measuring web traffic using Google Analytics? Be smarter. Do your homework. Learn to spot the signs that a conference exists solely to extract money from your wallet.

Acceptable price-point: $0 – $75/day.

Next: A slightly better breed of conference.

B. The balanced Social Media Conference model: Investing in solid content pays off in the long run

In the model below, you have a more balanced approach: The ratio of established speakers (assuming relevant and actionable content) to aspiring speaker is slightly greater. In this scenario, the conference organizer is at least attempting to balance profit and content by mixing the really good stuff with some cheap filler. (Yes, kind of like the average bottle of whiskey on the middle shelf behind the bar.) This  balanced, democratized model ensures that attendees will enjoy a much greater quality of content  and networking for their money than the first model would have provided:

conference 02

As mentioned in the previous section, this type of conference should also have a point. This can be demonstrated either by creating an overall theme for the conference (measurement, integration in the enterprise, customer service, best practices, etc.) or several specific tracks within the conference that will allow CMOs, CSMs, ITMs and other attendees with unique needs to go learn specific things as opposed to being forced to sit through a disjointed soup of “worthless FaceBook is great”  and “let’s measure ROI in impressions” presentations.

Incidentally, conferences that charge upwards of $300 for presentations lasting less than 45 minutes are a waste of your time. Nothing can be covered in depth in under 30 minutes. If you spot a preponderance of 10-15 minute presentations on the conference schedule, skip it altogether.

So to recap, this type of conference’s three signature features are: a) at least as many respectable speakers as unknown speakers, b) a point/some kind of thematic structure, and c) presentations lasting more than 10-20 minutes apiece.

Acceptable price-point: $0 – $600/day, with $600 pushing towards truly outstanding content.

Next: The very best kind of conference – The summit.

C. The pinnacle of Social Media conference models: The best practices-style Summit

In this model, the organizer’s priority is obvious: Assembling the best minds on any given topic in the same place at the same time. The quality of the presentations, panels and discussions should be high as every speaker has been hand-picked for the quality of their content and delivery. This type of conference/summit is the rare gem that actually puts you in the same room as the world’s brightest minds and true expert. Bring a notebook or two, because you will probably be going back to the office with hundreds of pages of notes, all of which worth pure gold. If one of them pops up in your neck of the woods and you have an opportunity to attend, clear your calendar and get your ticket. No matter what this event charges, you will get your money’s worth by attending and learning as much as you can.

Unfortunately, many of these types of event are either by invitation only or put on for membership-only organizations, so make sure you are properly connected at all times. If you aren’t cool enough to receive an invitation, at least know someone who can help you secure one on the DL.

Acceptable price-point: $500 – $5,000/day depending on the level of the summit. Some focus on CEOs while others cater to VP-level execs. The price can vary greatly from one to the other. On average, shoot for $1,000 to $1,500./day (Considering that most of the presenters charge upwards of $2,000 per day, you’re getting a bargain even at the very highest end of that spectrum.)

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Why you will now only see me at conferences with a legitimate reason for being:

Why am I telling you all this? Two reasons:

The first is to give you a heads-up: Before you start spending your summer vacation money on a half dozen worthless social media conferences over the course of the next 6 months, be aware that you could easily be throwing your money away on a bunch of hot air. Do your homework. Don’t just attend social media conferences because they’re there. Research the speakers, the topics, and more importantly, ask yourselves this simple question: What will I learn there that I couldn’t learn for free or on my own by spending a little quiet time with our friend Google? Stop paying unscrupulous conference organizers to put on crap events. Please.

The second is to let you know that effective immediately, I will not be participating in any conference that provides little or no value to attendees (you guys), and this for three pretty simple reasons:

  1. I don’t need the imaginary validation some people believe comes from becoming a staple of the US social media conference circuit. It’s a self-perpetuating ego trip. Nothing more. It’s completely meaningless and stupid.
  2. There comes a point where spending more time speaking than actually doing becomes counterproductive… and frankly, a little suspect. Anyone who has time to speak at 40+ conferences per year doesn’t have a real business. They’re a professional speaker, not a professional doer. No thanks. That isn’t who I am.
  3. There is absolutely no good reason whatsoever why I should ever lend my good name to the type of event that isn’t truly serious about helping businesses from around the world better understand, develop, integrate, manage and measure social media. That’s what I do. That’s what I am passionate about. If speaking at an event doesn’t serve that function, then it is a waste of my time and yours. Why should I lend my name to an event like that?

In short (and in case you hadn’t figured it out) I am serious about what I do, which these days basically consists in helping as many businesses as possible not only recover from this recession but emerge from it in better shape than they entered it. What it does not consist in is trying to become Mr. hot sh*t Social Media guru by showing up at every odd conference I can smooth-talk my way into. So aligning myself to every tom, dick and harry who puts on a horse and pony social media conference makes no sense at all in my world. I hope you guys won’t hold that against me.

And to be clear, if some of you want to try and become the next big thing on the Social Media conference circuit, I won’t hold it against you. I’m sure there’s money to be made there in the next couple of years, and the masses need good advice and insights into how social media can help them improve their lives. But if you don’t take that role seriously, if you aren’t responsible with the trust the public puts in you and your relative expertise, don’t be surprised if you pop up on the wrong end of my bullsh*t radar.

Conference organizers, you have your work cut out for you. If you want to create relevant events that will endure for years to come, I’ll be happy to help. By all means, let’s talk. But if you’re in this game to make a quick buck, don’t even bother sending me an email. I want nothing to do with what you stand for, and we’ll all see you on your way down.

In closing…

Both the #Likeminds team and the audience/participants reminded me that conferences with a purpose are as wonderful and valuable as conferences without one are a waste of time and an insult to our collective intelligence. When the most valuable information to come out of a marquee social media conference seems to be that “social media “will probably be called “new media” next year, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we’ve lost our way as a professional community. We can do better. We should do better. We have to do better.

After having attended three social media conferences while in the UK and a funeral while in France (yes, we’ll talk more about that as well), I came to the realization that the level of discourse about Social Media in the US needs a serious kick to the arse, and fast. This isn’t a game. This isn’t a fad. While the Twitternets were busy RT’ing an article that a distracted Fast Company blogger wrote about all the cool parties he went to in Vegas for BlogWorld as if it were gold, while pundits discussed the finer nuances of whether or not “Social Media” should change its name to “New Media” in 2010, our European counterparts were busy asking hard questions about how to actually plug social technologies and processes into the enterprise. How to sell it to their bosses. How to actually measure it properly. How to budget and plan for it. How to train their staff to use it. How to create a working social media management structure within their organizations. How to adapt their management cultures to the new realities of a perpetually networked and socially-empowered world. In other words, how to move forward from here.

Yep, while the US social media conference circuit was busy navel-gazing and playing rock star to its own eager fishbowl, real businesses with real problems were asking real questions, out there in the real world, where companies make and lose real money, where jobs are either created or lost, and where the world of business either adopts new ideas or moves on without giving it a second thought. Not next year, not in six months but right now. This week. Today.

In light of this, I hope everyone had a blast partying like rock stars in Vegas. Where’s the next party? Los Angeles? New York? Miami?

We can do better. We’re going to do better. And yeah, we’re going to start right now.

To be continued…

* Such a global best-practices summit is currently in the works. Details soon.

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Speaking at LikeMinds

Speaking at the #LikeMinds conference in Exeter, Devon, UK

Hang tight, kids. I’m trying to figure out what topic to open up with after my epic 10-day trip through the UK and France. I have hundreds of pages of notes bouncing around in my head and topics flying out of my… moleskine (what did you think I was going to say?) so it may take me a few hours yet to figure out where to start. And that isn’t even factoring in the pictures and videos I need to upload and edit. I am still in email management mode, and it may take a few days to sort it all out. 75 emails per day x 10 days… Yeah. I need interns.

Several things are certain though: Things are going to change around here.

First of all, expect less musings and more practical advice. The last thing the world needs is more abstract dreameries about brand management, new marketing, business 2.0, social media and the types of topics covered in this and other blogs of its kind. There’s plenty of that on the internets already and the last thing I want to do is add to an already overabundant pool of personal opinions.

Second, now that I have spent the better part of my stay in Exeter and London with some of the brightest minds in  business, brand management 2.0 and the Social Web (from Sky News, Edelman, Nielsen, the BBC, WC Group, 4 Walls and a Ceiling,  WorldEka, Limenoodle,  Red Cube, iLevel, tweetmeme, FreshNetworks, Sinuate, Optix Solutions, and Aaron+Gould, to name but a few on a list as long as it is brilliant) I have a much clearer understanding of the level of dicussion businesses need when it comes to preparing themselves for the next decade, particularly in the US, where the army of social media “guru” we’ve been lamenting about has been reaping a harvest of shameless crap on the backs of their unsuspecting clients.  For shame. Seriously. For shame. I hope there’s a special circle of hell for you if you fall into that category of a person.

In short, you, my readers, and companies wanting to improve their situation and their customers’ lives in the process all deserve better, and we’ve wasted enough time bleeding philosophy about market leadership, what social media XYZ is or isn’t or the value of effective measurement. We’re going to get down to brass tacks and talk about things that will make a real difference in your business.

Third, well… Hold on to you socks. We’re about to see how fast this V12 can really go. I have some pretty exciting announcements to make over the coming weeks.

Back in a bit with more. In the meantime, if you haven’t already done so, you need to go check out all of the incredible content from the #LikeMinds Conference I attended in Exeter, England, including some solid videos and photos of several of the presentations.

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Part 1: The definitive Social Media R.O.I. presentation

So there it is. The Social Media ROI (#smROI) presentation many of you were waiting for. Sure, I still have a few videos to shoot to complete the series, but a lot of the content and methodology is right here in this simple deck – from what ROI is and isn’t, to the basic methodology to link ROI (financial outcomes) to specific social media activities.

Think of this as a Social Media R.O.I. proof of concept methodology, that you can use as a foundation for social media measurement from a real business perspective.

What you will find in this presentation:

The business definition of R.O.I., the case for business justification of social media, the actual R.O.I. equation, a step-by-step method for creating a Social Media R.O.I. proof of concept, and real world no-nonsense advice.

What you will not find in this presentation:

The typical BS spewed by social media and media measurement “gurus” who obviously have no idea what they are talking about.

If your boss or client is still not getting the answers they want when it comes to the Social Media R.O.I. question, point them to this presentation and see if it strikes a chord.

If the presentation doesn’t launch for you properly, you can go check it out on slideshare here.

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Part 2: Social Fresh recap

I can’t list all the great people I met Monday at Social Fresh, so I apologize if I’ve omitted your name in this post. Leave me a comment to slap me upside the head if I forgot to include you here, and I will rectify my omission pronto. Anyhoo, I am pretty stoked to have finally met @keithburtis @gialyons @gavinbaker @smashadv @wendywells @nathanrichie @ENDsessions @cammicam RichTucker @beccabernstein @theRab @ryamstephens @djwaldow @gilliatt @waynesutton @gregcangialosi @areich @waynesutton (@armano @abellmas @amywood @spikejones and @tinkhanson I already knew. You don’t count.)

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I missed all of the morning sessions (I was being Mr. chatterbox in the lounge) but killer presos from @armano @gialyons and @spikejones in the afternoon. You couldn’t ask for a better afternoon lineup. Seriously, for a relatively small conference, the content was super solid.

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I really have to commend Jason Keath and his army of volunteers for pulling of this pretty awesome conference.

Yeah, maybe the SxSW’s of the world get all the press, but sometimes these small conferences pack a hell of a punch too. (Good things do come in small packages sometimes.)

It’s pretty much a given that SoFresh will be back (and I’m hoping it will spread to other cities, for that matter). Looking forward to the 2010 edition!

Note: I will post links to other presentations, flickr galleries and videos as soon as I have the urls.

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

Sometimes, even the best laid plans just go awry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make it work.

Make it happen.

Find a way.

(If you don’t, people will die.)

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

He was right.

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

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

That’s just a given.

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

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

Your new boss is an self-serving imbecile.

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

What do you do?

No… really. What do you do?

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

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

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

Not fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heck, embrace it.

You might as well.

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

Why?

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

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

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

The Ten Basic Rules of Project Management

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

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

Rule #3: Expect the unexpected.

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

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

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

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

Rule #8: Trust your instincts.

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

Rule #10: Have fun.

Why experience matters: A simple list.

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

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

There are no problems. Only solutions.

Simple enough.

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

That’s how it really works.

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

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

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

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

He made it happen.

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


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

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

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

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

It isn’t for everybody.

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

Sometimes, even the best laid plans just go awry.

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

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

Have a great weekend, everyone. 🙂

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

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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.


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