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Archive for the ‘kicking ass’ Category

No blog post today as I am in Washington DC for this summer’s final #Buzz2010 event. Here is the link: http://www.buzz2010.org/

The event takes place on the morning of the 18th, so if you read this before then, it probably isn’t too late to register. My predecessors this year were Groundswell author Charlene Li, nationally syndicated columnist Alexandra Levit, American Red Cross Social Media manager Wendy Harman, and Mark Story – adjunct professor of public relations at the University of Maryland and director of New Media at the S.E.C.

In other words, the smart kids went first.

I will speaking about… you know it: Social Media R.O.I., but this time with a twist. We’re taking the R.O.I. bit into the realm of non-profits, which should be interesting.

If there’s still time on the clock, find out the details here, and feel free to register.

See you in DC.

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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. ๐Ÿ˜€ (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 5Kย  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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How smart businesses are learning to combine “traditional” media and new “social” Media Channels to grow their brands:

Interesting slideshow from Austrian-based Knallgrau in which the company outlines some of the social media strategies and tactics they used in helping BMW seed interest in new X1 concept and promote its launch. Not entirely crystal clear (not bad for non-native English speakers though) but still pretty helpful in outlining how to incorporate new media channels into a complete 360 communications plan – especially if you are still new to social media/new media. Essentially, here’s how to break it all down:

Traditional media channels: The first three bars on the graph (left to right). Television, Print and Radio. Some basic attributes:

  • High costs
  • Closed (Monologue)
  • Emphasis on quantity instead of quality in intended audience (reach-to-transaction conversion is <10%)

Social media channels: The long tail of the reach & depth curve, including Search, Blogs, Podcasts, YouTube, wikis, Twitter, Facebook, virtual worlds (like Second Life and even World of Warcraft), active communities and networks, etc. Note that new media channels are getting thicker (much broader reach) and also more more specific (deeper and well defined) – both good things if you care about who your target audience is. Basic attributes:

  • Fractional costs
  • Open (two-way conversation/dialogue)
  • Emphasis on quality AND quantity (reach-to-transaction conversion >10%)

It is important to note that new media/social media channels are not intended to replace traditional media channels. If anyone tells you that traditional media is dead, they’re hacks. Don’t listen to them. The reality of media channels is simple: All channels have value, all channels address specific needs, and all channels need to be used intelligently in order to get the best possible results. Turning your back on any channel for any reason is basically turning your back on an opportunity to grow your business. It’s just silly. Truth: If a channel hasn’t worked for you in the past, it probably isn’t the channel’s fault. It just means that you haven’t yet found a way to make it work for you and your business. There’s an easy fix to that: Try again… and ask for expert help if you have to.

Whether you are developing your own media strategy internally or looking to hire a social media consultant to help you tackle this new marketing toolkit, remember to always look for a healthy balance in all things: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket (traditional media or social media). If there is one concept that you need to take away from Knallgrau’s presentation, it is the concept of “seeding”, which is purely a breadth strategy: In order to maximize your reach (or even understand what channels work best for your company), you need to seed your brand across as many channels as possible. If you can take a step back for a second and look at every channel as an investment (which it is), what you have to do is use simple logic: Don’t put all of your eggs in just two or three baskets, especially when you know that the price of entry is high, and the dividends aren’t all that stellar. The smart strategy is simply to diversify your marketing channels portfolio.

Once you’ve identified which channels seem to be catching on (getting some sort of positive and quantifiable result), THEN start working on depth within those channels.

This takes a little bit of THINKING when it comes to mapping out how these channels will work for you. Hire someone who can help you make sense of this if you need to, but be cautious: With “social media” being the hottest marketing keyword right now, self-professed “social media experts” are popping up like a bad case of teenage acne. Unfortunately, most of them are anything but.

Nb: My bit of good karma for the day: If you are looking for a solid social media consultant/practitioner either in your area or your industry, shoot me an email and I will help you connect with the right person or company. The list of real practitioners is still pretty short, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get you properly hooked up. My email: olivier@f360photo.com

Making it all work: Traditional Media and Social Media require different languages and mindsets.

While we’re on the subject of keeping the hacks away, it is very important for me to point out that the type of communication between companies and customers (or rather brands and people… and more people… and even more people), that takes place across new media channels is fundamentally different from the type of communication that occurs within traditional media channels. In the latter, messaging is king, and messaging is essentially a monologue. Conversely, the type of communication that takes place across social media is instead a dialogue. A conversation. The two require distinctively different approaches, and therefore two completely different mindsets. The danger in relying on self-proclaimed “social media experts” is that most come in two very distinct and equally ineffective forms:

  1. The ad/PR agency who has finally hopped on the bandwagon about a year or so ago because everyone else was adding “social media” to their list of services. This breed will typically charge you hefty fees to set up a blog, create a community site or two, maybe even use Twitter as a means to send out press releases, but then nothing will come of it. They will get you into the right channels, but then use them the only way they know how, which is to treat them like traditional media channels. The result: Zero impact. Not only will you will have wasted valuable time and money on a poorly executed plan, you will also walk away convinced that social media is a worthless fad. This happens A LOT. It’s pretty much reached epidemic proportions right now. Way too many companies fall into this trap and I want to see it stop.
  2. The Social Media cultist who keeps proclaiming that traditional media is dead. (Not in the real world, it isn’t.) I fell for that line a few years back when I realized the cost-benefit of social media, but I’ve gained enough experience and insight since then to realize that we were a little premature in declaring advertising and PR dead. (Thank goodness too.) These guys might convince you not to spend one more penny on advertising or PR. They will quote a handful of great examples of very well known companies that have grown their brands without resorting to traditional media channels… but those are few and far between and probably don’t apply to you. Truth: The vast majority of businesses can’t survive on social media alone. Even Apple – arguably the most successful superlovebrand whose fans will line up for days to spend their mortgage payment on its latest i-gottahaveit bit of design genius – spends a small country’s GDP on advertising. Starbucks, which for years never bothered with any advertising whatsoever is spending money on billboards and TV ads now. In spite of what these folks will tell you, social media is not the second coming.

In either case, it isn’t that the professionals you are dealing with are dishonest or out to “get your money.” Not at all. Most of these folks are trying to make an honest buck and they do want to help you. It’s just that they don’t really know how because they only have a portion of the equation figured out. Unfortunately, without the whole thing, you’re kind of screwed. You could equate it to toeing the start line of a marathon with only one running shoe, or having only trained to run 13 miles instead of the full 26.2. Sure, you might survive, you might reach the finish line, but at what cost and in what shape? The objective here isn’t for you to survive and gut it out just to say you spent some time in the race. The objective is to get ahead. To win, even. You don’t stand a chance if you don’t really understand what you are getting yourself into right from the start.

Here’s a tip: True social media practitioners a) understand the value of both traditional and new media channels, b) know how to get the most out of both traditional and new media channels individually, and c) can help you blend traditional and new media channels in order to maximize results and achieve your business goals. In other words, look for someone who knows how to strike the right balance for you, and NOT someone who will steer you towards one extreme or the other.

Straight talk and common sense: What this discussion all boils down to.

Back to the point: If you own or manage a business, learning how to incorporate new media channels into your existing marketing strategy is absolutely vital to your business’ future.

Especially in this economy.

Having an intelligent, balanced and well executed growth strategy that leverages both traditional AND new media will save you money, improve your brand equity, grow your market share, boost customer loyalty and engagement, and provide you with countless opportunities to increase your overall sales numbers. Period.

All of this is actually pretty simple to incorporate into your business… as long as you have a trustworthy and knowledgeable friend on your side who can guide you through it.

If you commit to learning how to make your company or marketing department smarter and more efficient through a combination of old and new tools, surround yourself with the right people with the right mindset and experience, and truly commit to kicking some ass (in the right way), very good things will happen.

Trust me, just like every other company out there (big and small) that has figured this out already, your modest investment in expert assistance (either by partnering with an expert or adding one to your team) could pay off BIG in no time. The alternative is to do nothing, continue to invest in an incomplete marketing portfolio, and hope that business will magically get better. (Good luck with that!)

Shoot me an email, and I will hook you up.

Have a great Monday, everyone!

๐Ÿ˜‰

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

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

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

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

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

Think about that…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emotional Contagion explained.

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

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

From a paper on Memetics and Social Contagion,

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

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

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

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

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

Happy People are better able to think logically

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

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

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

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

And apparently happier = healthier:

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

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

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

So can Happy and criticism live happily together?

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

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

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

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

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

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

The argument for and against anger

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, another Ghandi quote:

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

If the scientists are right, I might also add,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great Friday. ๐Ÿ˜‰

photo credit: Christopher Wray McCann

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I’ve never been a huge fan of Ironman. When it comes to superheroes, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Frank Miller’s work with Batman (The Dark Knight, for starters), Spidey, and the X-Men (mostly Wolverine). Ironman though… eh. He was kind of a secondary superhero in a lot of ways. Not much of a point. Billionaire genius builds metal rocket suit, fights crime for fun. Bleh.

But that changed when I saw the first trailer for the motion picture version – which finally came out this weekend. Score #1: Casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Score #2: Letting fans/geeks make the movie. Score #3: A great set of trailers. (In sharp contrast with Indiana Jones 4, which so far has a horrendous trailer.)

Anyhoo. The trailer started getting excited about the movie, and I have been anticipating it ever since. I excitedely took the family to see it over the weekend, and… well… I was a bit nervous about it. It’s Ironman, after all. How good can it be? I bought my tickets with a mixture of excitement and apprehension: What if it sucked? What if even Robert Downey Jr. and director John Favreau couldn’t save a second-rate superhero in his first attempt at becoming a big screen success? (Remember Daredevil? Nuff said.)

But from the very opening scene (great editing), my fears evaporated into thin air. Ironman was rock solid, and yeah, Robert Downey Junior is without a doubt one of the coolest actors in Hollywood. Always has been. He shines so brightly as Tony Stark that he singlehandedly takes what could have been (should have been) an okay Marvel superhero flick into one of the best Marvel movie franchises to date. Don’t believe me? Check out these review snippets from Rotten Tomatoes:

“Robert Downey Jr. nails Iron Man. More apropros, change nails to welds. For it is Downey who most significantly raises the quality bar of ‘Iron Man’ to the classic level of fellow comic book heroes Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. Welcome, new franchise.”

“Move over, Superman. This lush, high-octane playboy never tasted so good. Iron Man has not only etched itself the mark of one of the best-reviewed films so far in 2008 but also one of the highest-rated superhero movies of all time.”

“Robert Downey Jr., full-swing back into his acting genius, is exceptional as Iron Man. Life for Tony Stark is cool, and you can almost image him doing the Charlie Chaplin waddle across his workshop.”

“This might be the most relevant superhero tale we have yet seen.”

“Robert Downey Jr. delivers a knockout performance that alone is worth the price of admission to watch.”

“It’s Robert Downey Jr., having triumphed over his substance abuse battle, who puts the pedal to the metal and scores the freshest new franchise going.”

“The best superhero movie since Spider-Man 2. Robert Downey Jr is the film’s best special effect.”

“Downey could have taken a tragic tack. But he has fun just figuring out how to make the armor suit work. His sarcasm and almost drunken Tony Curtis body language transform the scenes of Iron Man.”

“In the proficient hands of Jon Favreau, abetted by a magnificent performance by Robert Downey, Jr., not only does Iron Man pay off, but it raises the stakes for comic book movies to follow, as well as the entire summer film season.”

Yet here it is. The cold hard truth that Hollywood studio execs need to read and re-read and learn from:

“Dangerously dependant on Robert Downey Jr. for entertainment. He throws a one-man party during every scene. But when he’s off-screen, the film wilts. (Yes, even with Jeff Bridges’ anti-Dude.) Re-cast, it would only be a shade better than Daredevil.”

Sure, the cgi is impressive, but without the superb casting and directing of Downey, the movie would not have been worth the $10 admission. Something Marvel must have figured out over the last year, when they decided to completely recast the “Hulk” Franchise for the upcoming Hulk sequel (The Incredible Hulk). Not that there was anything wrong with Eric Bana as Bruce Banner, but casting Edward Norton in the role for the sequel is pure genius. Too bad the cg design couldn’t have been overhauled too.

Point: When first rate writers, actors and directors start lending their talents to movies based on comic book/graphic novels and take them seriously (as in “not just a mindless popcorn blockbuster cash cow) they raise the bar and wonderful things happen.

Spiderman 1 and 2.
300
Sin City.
And now Ironman.

Take my point and transpose it onto your brand or your agency’s work: Are you really taking your latest campaign as seriously as you should? Are you really hiring and developing the very best talent you can? Are you as passionate about getting it right and making a splash as you should be? Are you really the brand development geek you could be? Should be? The design geek you should be? The wordsmithing geek you ought to be? The first rate art director you once dreamed of being?

Even if you aren’t being paid like the A-list talent you hope to be, even if you don’t have the fancy title and the cool business card and the cool office, are you really working it like Robert Downey Jr.? Taking an average movie script based on a silly second rate comic book superhero and elevating it to something remarkable, lasting and cool?

Or are you letting the source material, the client, the market or even your paycheck justify an half-assed effort on your part?

Half-assed efforts like Daredevil, Elektra, The Incredible Hulk (1) and X-Men 3, may make money, but they only serve to hurt the Marvel franchise. It’s interesting to see how a studio, director, team of producers or a casting director can impact a brand so quickly: Botch a Marvel superhero movie, and the sum of its franchises starts slipping. Get one right, and the entire portfolio of Marvel franchises suddenly goes up in value. The same is true of Starbucks, Hyatt hotels, Volkswagen, Delta Airlines, or whatever brand or business you can think of: Every customer experience either erodes the value of your brand or elevates it.

Nobody gives a crap if you’ve worked for Miramax, Fox, Disney and Marvel if your projects have all been crap. Professionals rise to the top of their professions by taking even mediocre ideas, products, campaigns and projects, and elevating them to new heights. Period. Nobody is going to hand you a golden egg. They’re going to hand you a heaping pile of steaming crap, and it’s your job to turn it into a work of art. (And a lasting one at that.)

Some might call this alchemy. I call it my job. You call it your job. And that’s what sets some of you apart from the rest. You can actually do this: Turn crap into gold. And people around you know it. (If they don’t, what the hell are you waiting for? Show them!)

What you want to hear from your clients, bosses or audience EVERY SINGLE TIME you deliver a project is this: “I had no idea it would turn out this well.”

And their next breath should sound a lot like a “wow.”

Like many of you reading this blog, Robert Downey Jr. has always had the talent to rise to the very top of his profession. Unlike many of you, however, he didn’t always have the right mental attitude, the right focus, the right amount of professional fortitude to put his tremendous talent to good use. Yet here he is, cleaned up, ready to make up for lost time, making a hell of a comeback, and handing a movie studio (and pop culture) a hell of a gift in the process. If he can pull that kind of comeback, knowing what hell he crawled out of, so can you. Stop half-assing. Stop hiding behind your “company culture,” behind red tape, behind someone else’s crappy work or behind an obtuse boss or client. Just kick ass. Period.

Just

kick

ass.

And go see Ironman. You’ll have fun. Trust me.

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