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Archive for the ‘fear’ Category

keepmum

First, let me open this post by telling you that I am not going to bash the Marine Corps (USMC) or ESPN for their unfortunate and ill-advised decisions regarding social networks this week. But I will say this: Their respective decisions to temporarily (or permanently) impose restrictions and/or bans on their personnel with respect to social network access do not address the problems they hoped to correct.

We’ll get to that in a bit, but first, let’s flashback to what actually happened this week:

Exhibit A: On August 3, 2009, the United States Marine Corps released a document entitled IMMEDIATE BAN OF INTERNET SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES (SNS) ON MARINE CORPS ENTERPRISE NETWORK (MCEN) NIPRNE. The fully capitalized document essentially banned Marines from accessing social networks like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter from their network. (An issue for potentially tens of thousands of USMC families who currently use these platforms to stay in touch with their loved ones – deployed in active theaters or not.)

A few key elements of this ban:

1. PURPOSE. THIS MESSAGE ANNOUNCES AN IMMEDIATE BAN ON INTERNET SNS WITHIN THE MCEN UNCLASSIFIED NETWORK (NIPRNET).
2.  BACKGROUND. INTERNET SNS ARE DEFINED AS WEB-BASED SERVICES THAT ALLOW COMMUNITIES OF PEOPLE TO SHARE COMMON INTERESTS AND/OR EXPERIENCES (EXISTING OUTSIDE OF DOD NETWORKS) OR FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO EXPLORE INTERESTS AND BACKGROUND DIFFERENT FROM THEIR OWN.  THESE INTERNET SITES IN GENERAL ARE A PROVEN HAVEN FOR MALICIOUS ACTORS AND CONTENT AND ARE PARTICULARLY HIGH RISK DUE TO INFORMATION EXPOSURE, USER GENERATED CONTENT AND TARGETING BY ADVERSARIES.  THE VERY NATURE OF SNS CREATES A LARGER ATTACK AND EXPLOITATION WINDOW, EXPOSES UNNECESSARY INFORMATION TO ADVERSARIES AND PROVIDES AN EASY CONDUIT FOR INFORMATION LEAKAGE THAT PUTS OPSEC, COMSEC, PERSONNEL AND THE MCEN AT AN ELEVATED RISK OF COMPROMISE.  EXAMPLES OF INTERNET SNS SITES INCLUDE FACEBOOK, MYSPACE, AND TWITTER.

View the full document here.

Exhibit B: On August 4, 2009, US sports broadcaster ESPN also announced new Social Media guidelines regarding employee/talent usage of Twitter.

Some key elements of ESPN’s new guidelines (bold text for editorial purposes only):

“We expect to hold all talent who participate in social networking to the same standards we hold for interaction with our audiences across TV, radio and our digital platforms. This applies to all ESPN Talent, anchors, play by play, hosts, analysts, commentators, reporters and writers who participate in any form of personal social networking that contain sports related content.”

Specific Guidelines:

* Personal websites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted

* Prior to engaging in any form of social networking dealing with sports, you must receive permission from the supervisor as appointed by your department head

* ESPN.COM may choose to post sports related social media content

* If ESPN.com opts not to post sports related social media content created by ESPN talent, you are not permitted to report, speculate, discuss or give any opinions on sports related topics or personalities on your personal platforms

* The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content

* Assume at all times you are representing ESPN

* If you wouldn’t say it on the air or write it in your column, don’t tweet it

* Exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for your colleagues, business associates and our fans

* Avoid discussing internal policies or detailing how a story or feature was reported, written, edited or produced and discussing stories or features in progress, those that haven’t been posted or produced, interviews you’ve conducted, or any future coverage plans.

* Steer clear of engaging in dialogue that defends your work against those who challenge it and do not engage in media criticism or disparage colleagues or competitors

* Be mindful that all posted content is subject to review in accordance with ESPN’s employee policies and editorial guidelines

* Confidential or proprietary company information or similar information of third parties who have shared such information with ESPN, should not be shared

Any violation of these guidelines could result in a range of consequences, including but not limited to suspension or dismissal.

View the guidelines here (via Mashable).

Not everyone will agree with me on what I have to say about this and that’s okay. Just hear me out and feel free to tell me why I am right and/or why I am wrong.

First things first: The USMC’s ban.

wanted

Remember these posters from WWII? Seaborne convoys to Europe were under constant attack from German U-boats and it was believed (rightly so) that Nazi spies were listening in on conversations to help plan attacks on ships. The US government created an awareness campaign to remind people (military and not) to keep sensitive information (schedules, troop movements, ship departures, etc.) to themselves.

Smart move: Creating that awareness saved lives. People were introduced to a threat they had not considered, understood the stakes, and were asked to take responsibility for their actions. This was essentially a combination of awareness and training.

award

What the government didn’t do was ban military personnel and their families from using telephones, the US postal service or classified ads (the technologies of the time) out of fear that sensitive information might be leaked out via these mass communication devices.

Do you see where I am going with this?

Awareness, education and responsibility vs. outright bans. That’s the discussion we are really having today. What best practices can be put in place within an organization when it comes to social media usage?

In the case of the USMC, is an outright ban of SNS access on the NIPRNET truly the solution? Or is it possible that perhaps clear guidelines about what content is and isn’t acceptable (along with adequate monitoring) for Marines might yield better results without interrupting benign types of communications? Perhaps even create further layers of guidelines based on the role and location of these Marines. (Recon Marines in Iraq vs. a drill instructor on Parris Island, for example: Different threat. Different access to mission-sensitive info, etc.) This might sound complicated, but it isn’t.

closed

Look at it in a different way. Is it possible that Marines chatting about a mission within hearing range of an Iraqi vendor or contractor might be as damaging (if not more) as a Facebook update? An overheard phone call? An intercepted postcard while on leave? Isn’t it more likely that sensitive information would find its way into the hands of the enemy through conventional means than through a tweet or Facebook update?

The risk here is not the medium, it is the behavior. Ban access to the medium and you solve nothing: The behavior is still there, only now, you are blind to it. Double-fail.

Identify the threat, then address the specific threat. That’s how it works. If you identify the wrong threat and engage it instead of the real threat, you’re screwed. I fear that this is what has happened with the Marine Corps. In other words, not only will the move not save lives, but it will instead help further isolate soldiers from their families at a time when technology makes deployments a lot more manageable than they have ever been.

I kidded on Twitter earlier this week was that to avoid being outdone by the Marine Corps, the Army was planning to ban the use of telephones and the Air Force would look into banning the use of snail mail. Don’t take it too literally (I understand the different threat posed by the openness of social networks), but don’t dismiss the notion too quickly either. Twitter… telephones… not a huge difference when you step back and look at the full picture.

There is a reason why telephones and mail were not banned in WWII: Training and awareness worked. A ban of technology usage would not have worked at all. The lesson: Give people some credit. Give them the opportunity to do the right thing. Don’t treat them like stupid little children. Chances are, they’ll make you proud. (That’s what IBM did… but hang on. We’re not quite there yet.)

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In regards to ESPN’s Twitter guidelines:

Many of these guidelines are solid. Especially “Confidential or proprietary company information or similar information of third parties who have shared such information with ESPN, should not be shared”, “Assume at all times you are representing ESPN” and “Exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for your colleagues, business associates and our fans.” No problem there. These should actually be #1 #2 and #3 on that list.

When it comes to being professional, representing your employer 24/7 and not sharing confidential information, thumbs-up. Good stuff. I’m right there with you, ESPN.

But wait… then things get a little out of hand.

Case in point: “Personal websites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted.” Seriously? So let me get this straight… if I am a triathlete working for ESPN and want to write a post on my own personal blog about the half Ironman I just competed in last weekend, I am not allowed to do so? Am I also prohibited from posting pictures of my son playing basketball on my Facebook page? Openly supporting a charity like Livestrong or Susan G. Komen is out of the question then? Let alone sharing with anyone that I am a fan of a particular team or athlete?

Another problematic policy here is this one: “The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content.” Not to get Clintonesque here, but can ESPN define “the”? Whose priority are we talking about, and in what context? Is ESPN implying that their employees use of social media platforms (FaceBook, Twitter, blogs, Skype, Friendfeed, IM) is exclusively limited to ESPN-sanctioned communications? So… Any use of social media outside of a ESPN-sanctioned context is in violation of company policy? Outside of work, ESPN employees are no longer allowed to connect with old high school friends on Facebook? They shouldn’t engage with friends, neighbors, golf buddies and family members on Twitter? They should immediately end their involvement with the dozens of hobby-related communities they belong to online, from sports clubs and antique car collector communities to foodie and health-minded forums?

Help me out here. I don’t see how this makes any sense from an HR or PR perspective (let alone a legal one). Though some elements of this policy are sound, others fall completely outside the realm of realistic, enforceable and effective guidelines for company-wide social media usage. Perhaps ESPN might want to consider other options (and probably better sources of advice) when it comes to framing policies for its social media program? Perhaps (again) incorporating training for employees as well might be a better solution?

Counterpoint: IBM’s fantastic internal social media policy – A template for all companies? (Maybe.)

Rosie_the_RiveterSm_4864

You might not expect a corporate juggernaut like IBM to lead the way when it comes to creating effective social media guidelines for its employees, yet here we are: IBM was one of the first enterprise-size companies to not only recognize the need for such a document, but also to deliver an adequate set of guidelines within it that made sense and allowed its culture to spread. IBM recognized that treating its employees like responsible adults rather than dangerous little children might yield pretty good results.

And they were right.

Check out IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines here.

I want to highlight a few specific elements of the document here so you can enjoy the radical contrast between ESPN’s less than savvy approach vs. IBM’s:

As outlined in the Business Conduct Guidelines, IBM fully respects the legal rights of our employees in all countries in which we operate. In general, what you do on your own time is your affair. However, activities in or outside of work that affect your IBM job performance, the performance of others, or IBM’s business interests are a proper focus for company policy.

IBM supports open dialogue and the exchange of ideas.
IBM regards blogs and other forms of online discourse as primarily a form of communication and relationship among individuals. When the company wishes to communicate publicly as a company—whether to the marketplace or to the general public—it has well established means to do so. Only those officially designated by IBM have the authorization to speak on behalf of the company.

However, IBM believes in dialogue among IBMers and with our partners, clients, members of the many communities in which we participate and the general public. Such dialogue is inherent in our business model of innovation, and in our commitment to the development of open standards. We believe that IBMers can both derive and provide important benefits from exchanges of perspective.

One of IBMers’ core values is “trust and personal responsibility in all relationships.” As a company, IBM trusts—and expects—IBMers to exercise personal responsibility whenever they participate in social media. This includes not violating the trust of those with whom they are engaging. IBMers should not use these media for covert marketing or public relations. If and when members of IBM’s Communications, Marketing, Sales or other functions engaged in advocacy for the company have the authorization to participate in social media, they should identify themselves as such.

Read the rest here.

Beautiful, isn’t it? IBM actually treats its employees like responsible adults. How about that.

By the way, check out when IBM started working on this: 2005!  Most companies today still don’t have adequate (or even specific guidelines when it comes to social media usage) and we’re just a few months away from 2010. Anyone feeling a little unprepared right now? Yeah. Some of you probably should be.

That is how it’s done, boys and girls: With calm, insightful knowledge and understanding. With respect for the medium, the process, your employees and your customers.

Okay, now come close. I have a secret to tell you: The best antidote to fear is knowledge.

That’s right: Companies whose staffers understand social media, community dynamics, organic brand management and new technologies will figure out how to do this right. (Like IBM.)

Conversely, companies with a lack of knowledge, understanding and practical experience in these areas are bound to let fear overcome logic and common sense. Fear, ignorance and paranoia aren’t exactly good foundations upon which to base a social media program – or anything else, for that matter. This is how companies can suddenly invalidate the entire potential of their social media efforts AND turn a knee-jerk reaction into a PR disaster all in one fell swoop. (And man, is it painful to watch.)

Incidentally, if you are a corporate executive who actually fears his own people… why are they your people? (Either hire better or train better. What are you doing? Hiring mean-spirited unprofessional idiots with no common sense? In this economy? When you could have your pick of the best talent out there?) If you have to impose bans and draconian restrictions on your staff to keep them in line, if the stick needs to be bigger than the carrot, your problem isn’t Twitter or Facebook. Your problem is you. (Something to think about.)

keepcalmred

One last bit of wisdom from IBM’s Social Web Guidelines to send you off on a good note:

Be who you are. Some bloggers work anonymously, using pseudonyms or false screen names. IBM discourages that in blogs, wikis or other forms of online participation that relate to IBM, our business or issues with which the company is engaged. We believe in transparency and honesty. If you are blogging about your work for IBM, we encourage you to use your real name, be clear who you are, and identify that you work for IBM. Nothing gains you more notice in the online social media environment than honesty—or dishonesty. If you have a vested interest in something you are discussing, be the first to point it out. But also be smart about protecting yourself and your privacy. What you publish will be around for a long time, so consider the content carefully and also be judicious in disclosing personal details.

This is so evolved that it almost brings a tear of joy to my eye.

No need to panic. If IBM can pull it off, our company can too. (Yes, even you, ESPN.) To start with, all you really have to do is take this social media program building process seriously and maybe ask for a little bit of expert help to help you avoid these types of snafus.

Incidentally, if your company doesn’t currently have either a solid set of social media guidelines or employee awareness training in place, give me a call (or have your HR manager give me a call). I can help you with that. 😉

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The Paris-Dakar Rally isn’t very big in the US, but it is in Europe and other parts of the world. For decades, it was the quintessential international motorsport expedition event – more so than the Camel Trophy and its other motorized adventure race style events.

As a kid, I remember watching the day’s highlights on TV, and sitting next to my dad on Sunday evenings as the race was recapped stage by stage. Helicopters equipped with cameras followed intrepid racers in kit cars and modified supercross bikes as they raced balls out across the North African desert. The crashes were as spectacular as the scenery. The teams were made up of seemingly unshakable professional adventurers and thrill-seekers. Drivers routinely got stuck in the sand and had to get themselves unstuck. Mechanical problems had to be fixed without assistance. The race was as much aout self-reliance and survival as it was about horsepower and speed.

More than anything, the race was about courage.

I remember watching a participant on a motorcycle crash so hard one year that he broke both legs. He was on a motorcycle. In the desert. By himself. With two shattered legs. He managed to get back on his bike and somehow ride to the finish – amid dunes and rocks and some of the most hostile terrain known to man. Other than the hiker who amputated his own arm with a pocket knife a few years ago, this dude holds a special place in the pantheon of courageous and tough bastards.

Like I said, this race was mostly about courage.

That ended today when the organizers of the Paris Dakar Rally announced that the rally would temporarily move to South America next year in an attempt to avoid the threat of terrorism (from msn.com):

PARIS (AP) – Argentina and Chile will host the 2009 edition of the Dakar Rally, which was canceled this year because of fears of terrorism in Africa.

Organizers said Monday the race will start in Buenos Aires on Jan. 2 and finish in the Argentine capital Jan. 18. The full route will be announced Tuesday in Argentina by Patrice Clerc, who runs the company that organizes the rally.

This year marked the first time that the 30-year-old rally, one of the biggest competitions in automobile racing, was called off. The threat of terrorist attacks pushed the element of risk to levels organizers deemed unacceptable.

The roughly 550 competitors were to have embarked on a 16-day, 5,760-mile trek through remote and hostile dunes and scrub from Portugal to Dakar, Senegal.

The race, once known as the Paris-Dakar, was canceled following warnings from the French government about safety after the al-Qaida-linked Dec. 24 slaying of a family of French tourists in Mauritania. Eight of the competition’s 15 stages were to be held there.

Organizers promised that the cancellation did not mean the end of the Dakar race.

Please. Grow a pair.

Easy for me to say, sitting comfortably at my desk, thousands of miles away from Europe and North Africa? Don’t be so sure. Anyone who makes it his or her career to train for these types of events and risk everything to race in them isn’t the kind of person who will back down because of the “possibility” of a terrorist attack. Racing teams have to be fuming over this ridiculous and unbelievably cowardly decision.

As if Al Qaeda didn’t have better things to do.

As if the race couldn’t be adequately protected.

I understand that the decision to cancel, and then to move the race is probably related to insurance coverage, but that is no excuse. The Paris-Dakar is called Paris-Dakar because the race starts in Paris, and ends in Dakar. Duh. It has for decades. Moving the race to a different continent makes in another race altogether. If you move it, it ceases to be Paris-Dakar. Period. End of story. The race dies.

Perhaps this is me sitting on my high horse, but when the threat of terrorism pushes event organizers to postpone, cancel, or move a sporting event, the terrorists win… and this is unacceptable.

Why don’t we also move the New York Marathon to Ontario, while we’re at it?

Why don’t we move the Superbowl to Australia?

Why don’t we move the Tour De France to Japan?

Why don’t we just cancel the Olympic Games?

All for security reasons. Al Qaeda and all…

Maybe race organizers should also get rid of the swim portion of the Hawaii Ironman because of the threat of shark attacks.

Maybe Mount Everest expeditions should be redirected to a safer mountain that doesn’t claim so many lives. We could still call it an Everest expedition… you know… for the sponsors. And for the public too, since they’ve heard of Everest.

Maybe Nascar should enforce speed limits.

When your event/race/brand is synonymous with courage, adventure, and survival in the face of adversity, cowering before the bullying specter of terrorism is just sad. Excuse my French, but if we have become too chicken-shit to race cars through the desert, the spirit of Paris-Dakar is indeed dead – only Al Qaeda had absolutely nothing to do with it: Terrorists may plant bombs and crash jetliners into skyscrapers, but we’ve become cowards all on our own. We can’t blame Al Qaeda for that.

I think that we can officially call the Paris-Dakar brand dead and buried.

Shame on the race organizers. Shame on the race sponsors. Shame on us all.

Let me close with this little bit of Chuck Palahniuk, for good measure:

“The laws that keep us safe, these same laws condemn us to boredom.” (…)

At her last trial, before the last time she went to jail, the Mommy had sat up next to the judge and said, “My goal is to be an engine of excitement in people’s lives.”

She’d stared right into the stupid little boy’s eyes and said, “My purpose is to give people glorious stories to tell.”

Before the guards took her into the back wearing handcuffs, she’d shouted, “Convicting me would be redundant. Our bureaucracy and our laws have turned the world into a clean, safe work camp.”

She shouted, “We are raising a generation of slaves.”

And it was back to prison for Ida Mancini.

“Incorrigible” isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.

The unidentified woman, the one who ran down the aisle during the ballet, she was screaming, “We are teaching our children to be helpless.”

Running down the aisle and out a fire exit, she’d yelled, “We’re so structured and micromanaged, this isn’t a world anymore, it’s a damn cruise ship.”

From Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk


Nothing is sadder to me than watching courage die. This is at the very least a sad day in the history of sport.


R.I.P. Paris-Dakar Rally.
1979 – 2007

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“So I was wondering, what is that exact point where a company stops caring? Stops paying attention to their customers? Stops with the phenomenal customer service? Is it when they reach a certain sales figure? A certain number of employees?”


These were some of the pertinent questions posed by Brains On Fire’s resident firestarter Spike Jones some time ago.

This is too big a topic to try to cover in only one post, but the least I can do is to try and get the discussion started. Here is a short list of what you might call purple cow killers. These business diseases can strike a perfectly cool little company with quasi-infinite potential, and turn it into a bumbling corporate flunkie faster than you can say “I.P.O.”:

1) Routine

People lose their passion for things they love when those things become routine. Think about it. Your first day at a new job. Your first drive in a new car. The first time you see a good movie. A first kiss. Everything is exciting at first… but then you eventually get jaded. The excitement wanes. You lose some of your passion. Details become someone else’s problem. So do your products. So do your customers. Deny it all you want, it’s true… and it’s inevitable unless you do something about it.

The trick is to keep the fire burning by keeping things fresh. If routine is a passion-killer, then build a corporate ecosystem that actively fights routine. Easier said than done? Nope. Quite the contrary. (But that’s a topic for another day.)

2) Bureaucracy

The bigger you get, the more you start to rely on procedures. The more you start to say things like “no” and “can’t” and “we’ll have to charge you extra for that”. The harder it becomes for the people at the top of your organization to stay in direct contact with their customers. That’s bad. It shouldn’t take thirty minutes for a customer to get a return authorization. It shouldn’t take seven transfers to get a product manager on the phone. Nobody should ever get the runaround. Ever.

Bureaucracies slow things down and build walls between employees and between you and your customers. As you grow, take the time to develop systems that overcome this problem. Again, this isn’t hard, but you can’t let these things fall to chance. You have to be just as proactive in building your company’s structure as you are in building its markets.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that a company isn’t a building or a logo or a set of rules. A company is always, first and foremost, a group of people united to pursue a common interest. And while you may not think of it that way, this applies to your employees as well as your customers. As a business leader, one of your jobs is to make sure these people are all connected. If your organization disconnects them from one another, you are majorly shooting yourself in the foot.

3) Comfort

If you’ve only worked on the agency side of the business, chances are that you’ve never heard these dreaded words: “We’ve been doing things this way for ____ years, and we’ve been successful at it, so there’s no reason to change.”

(Nails on a chalkboard.)

Yeah, well, in the wise words of Jack Spade, “Never believe anything you’ve done is successful.” The minute you do, you’re dead. End of story. In business, getting comfortable = getting lazy.

Reality check: Markets change. Technologies and tastes change. People grow old and younger ones take their place. Renewal = relevance. Even old-school luxury houses like Bentley and Cartier have adapted to new markets. (If you don’t believe me, watch MTV sometime.)

If you don’t constantly question what you could do better or where you might go next, you’re done. Period.

4) Nepotism

It’s natural to want to surround yourself with people you know and trust. It’s another thing altogether to promote buddies and family members to positions they are neither qualified for, nor passionate about.

Furthermore, while surrounding yourself with people who won’t ever challenge you might be a nice ego boost, it is certainly no way to keep your company moving in any kind of direction.

If all your key managers are passionate about are their 401K plans and their annual retreats to Tahiti, then it’s no surprise that your company has lost its focus.

5) Fear

“Show me a guy who’s afraid to look bad, and I’ll show you a guy you can beat every time.” (Lou Brock)

Yep.

The older you get, the less chances you are likely to take with your career. The larger your company is, the less likely you are to risk screwing something up.

Too much to lose, you see.

So you stop taking chances. You start worrying about what your “competitors” are doing. Instead of leading them, you let them lead you. Next thing you know, you’ve exported all of your production power to China, your quality takes a dive, your customer service is anything but, every bit of talent you ever managed to hire has walked out on you, and you find yourself on the losing end of a price war. Other than just plain dishonesty, that’s how great companies fail.

Well, bollocks. Playing it “safe” is the fastest way to screw yourself over. (And your customers.)

If you don’t have the huevos to stretch the boundaries now and again, to be an innovator, a pioneer, and to sometimes be okay with making some people really hate your latest product, then you need to find another occupation. Being a leader isn’t about staying put. It’s about… well, leading.

6) Denial

Most companies who don’t get it think that they do get it. That’s the tragedy. Once your distribution channels are well-developed, once you have thousands of active accounts, once you’ve been a market leader for twenty, thirty, forty years, the sheer momentum of your growth can carry you into another decade or two. As long as your growth closely matches whatever opportune economic indicator you are following, things might look pretty decent.

You might be under the delusion that you have it all figured out.

So what if you haven’t actually spoken to a customer in twenty years? So what if you don’t even bother to use your own products anymore? So what if you’ve chased away companies that could have become your partners in a number of cool ventures, and they went to your competitors instead? So what if your best people are quitting, one after the other? So what if you have absolutely no idea what people are saying about your products, about your customer service, about your company, about your leadership?

No news is good news, right?

Right?

*sigh*

How do we end up in sad little places like this? Really. You’d think that by now, we’d ALL know better. Tsk.

Before I get back to work, I’ll leave you with another Jack Spade favorite:

“The bigger you get, the smaller you should act.”

Every C.E.O. on the planet should be required to recite that line a hundred times every morning before they even get to their desk. (Let me propose a UN resolution. Do I hear a yay?)

To leave comments (and read previous, related posts) hit the brandbuilder’s main page.

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Hop on over to Kathy Sierra‘s blog for her post on bravery, confidence, and getting past the paralysis of uncertainty. Very cool stuff, as always:

“If your new Big Idea doesn’t scare the hell out of you, it’s probably not a new Big Idea. If it doesn’t scare other people, it might be because you allowed the consensus (or what you imagined as the consensus) to smooth the pointy bits, buffing and polishing the idea into a nice safe state that displeases nobody and delights nobody.”
(…)
“But–if we let the critics (or fear of criticism) talk us out of an idea we still believe in, the world will be more homogeneous. Smoother. Less interesting. Imagine where we’d be if people throughout history had always given in to the critics (or fear of critics). Imagine the ideas that would have beenlost if others hadn’t been brave enough to stand up against smart people who disagreed. Nature needs change and diversity, but humans tend to favor the status quo.”

… Well, not all humans. Some of us are wired a little bit differently. It isn’t so much that we’re difficult. We really aren’t. It’s just in our DNA to a) figure out ways to make things better for people around us, and b) to find ways to take these ideas and actually make them happen.

We just want faster wheels. Safer helmets. Sharper pictures. Easier web interfaces. Cleaner fuels. Smarter workspaces. Softer beds. Fun retail spaces. Cheaper orbiters. More powerful telescopes. Tastier drive-thru coffee. Food, clean water and medicine for every human being on the planet. Better advertising. Put simply, we have the skills to make these things happen, and don’t feel like waiting for someone else to get around to it.

Kathy posted a link to the very cool ode to “The Crazy Ones”, from Apple. Remember the ad? If not, maybe this will refresh your memory:

Here’s to the crazy ones.


The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.

They invent. They imagine. They heal.
They explore. They create. They inspire.
They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Amen.

Related post: Fear Is Irrelevant.

Check this out. 😉

To leave comments (and read previous, related posts) hit the brandbuilder’s main page.

Image by Goldmember

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Every day, I am amazed at the sorts of things people are afraid of.

Perhaps because of my time in the Fusiliers Marins, – and because a handful of my friends are in hot war zones where death could come at any moment from a sniper’s bullet, landmine, rocket, mortar shell or IED, – I am not really all that phased by the thought of getting yelled at by my boss or looking bad when one of my projects doesn’t pan out the way I thought it would.

It isn’t to say that I don’t worry about office-related catastrophes. I don’t want to look bad in front of my peers. I don’t want to get yelled at by my boss. I don’t want to do anything that will make anyone I work with or work for think twice about letting me develop and execute their next marketing strategy. I get paid to deliver great work all of the time – not just some of the time. Like everyone else who is serious about what they do for a living, I don’t ever want to screw up. I don’t want to be wrong. So yes, like most of you, fear of failure is part of my world.

That being said, I make a choice every day not to let that fear get in the way of turning ambitious and often unproven ideas into a reality. Why? Because fear of failure is purely a vanity-driven fear. It’s bullshit. Heck, it’s pathetic and inexcusable once you’re over the age of 30.

Do I put my reputation on the line every time I take on a new project? Absolutely. Do I risk a black mark on my “file” every time I turn the dial a little further and push past our comfort zones? You bet. So what. What’s the worst thing that could happen if one of my projects doesn’t deliver? You take your licks, learn from your mistakes, and try again.

What I have found is that failure is a much more effective teacher than success. Taking chances and finding out how things work or don’t work makes you a more effective leader. You learn to ask “how can this go wrong?” early on in the planning process. It marries curiosity with wisdom, which is always a good thing. Conversely, sitting in an office doing the same crap every day for twenty years for fear of screwing up and looking like a fool doesn’t do much except turn you into a warm piece of expensive office furniture.

When you put things in perspective, taking a few chances here and there at work with the goal of improving your company’s position, growth rate or bottom line pale in comparison to working in a place where bullets and shrapnel (instead of a few angry words behind closed doors or some unpleasant moments during a presentation) are the threats you face every day.

Facing bullets and bombs every day takes a lot more courage than your boss occasionally taking a verbal dump on you.

Earlier today, ex-Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, just days before elections in her country. Bhutto, a woman, opposed a predominantly patriarchal government in the face of hatred so intense that death threats were a daily reality for her. She could have backed off. She could have thought about the risks and rationalized that perhaps retiring from public life, playing things safe, just flying under the radar and making a living without making waves was the smarter thing to do. The safer thing to do. But instead, she chose to stand for something. She chose to be an agent of change. She chose to give fear the middle finger and stand up for what she thought was best for her country and for her peers. Her murder today makes me very sad.

The kind of commitment, the level of responsibility and professionalism, and the unbelievable amount of courage that men and women like Benazir Bhutto display in their lives and careers help put things in perspective for me: How can I ever be afraid of things like petty office politics and the occasional little career dings when my world is a climate-controled office thousands of miles from the nearest war zone?

When most of us take a chance at work, the risk isn’t an assassin’s bullet finding us at our desk. It isn’t an RPG ripping through our windshield during our morning commute. We aren’t going to get shanked or strangled with piano wire in the executive bathroom by a couple of pissed off junior VPs. What is there to be afraid of? I mean really. What is there to be afraid of? A frown? A few angry words? Missing out on a promotion?

When did we become such wussies?

My advice for you today is this: Be engaged. Be bold. Change the game. Leave your competitors in the dust. Rewrite the rules. The worst thing that’ll happen is that you’ll occasionally screw up , but you’ll also occasionally score big, so the score won’t look as bad as you think. Most of the time, as long as you did your homework and set out to execute a well-thought-out plan, you don’t really have much to lose.

Nobody is going to put a bullet in your head if your last marketing campaign fell short of the expepected ROI. You may go down in flames, but at least you’ll have tried your best, and there’s a lot to be said for that.

Stop playing it safe. Go on the offensive. Either commit or go home.

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