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Archive for the ‘vision’ Category

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Okay, I don’t usually borrow post titles or topics from other people, but today I’ll make an exception. Amber Naslund (@ambercadabra in the Twitterverse) just posted a remarkably honest, human and pretty personal post on her blog in which she asked (and started answering) a very simple but important question: What won’t you compromise?

Well, I thought it would be fun to follow her example and a) pose the question to you guys (in case you missed Amber’s post) and b) answer it for myself, albeit a little more loosely: Instead of just things I won’t compromise, I also added a few things I won’t compromise on (which is a little bit different).

Here we go. In no particular order:

Professional integrity.

I have worked for two companies that employed deceptive practices. Once when I first started out in the business world, and again more recently. In both cases, the amount of time between the moment I was made aware of the shenanigans and my departure from that job was remarkably short. I don’t play those games.

I could have rationalized that the deceptive practices weren’t mine, that I didn’t even touch that side of the business, that it really had nothing to do with me. I could have also rationalized that I had mouths to feed, bills to pay, nice toys to buy, but excuses are just excuses. Excuses are compromises. You can rationalize your way into a world of shameless douchebaggery if you aren’t careful. Just don’t go there. Not even a little. Ever.

Trust.

Either I trust you or I don’t. It’s really that simple. I don’t have to like you, but I have to trust you. In friendship, in business, in cooking, in war… trust isn’t gray. Oh, and trust is always a two-way street. It’s the only way it works.

Sushi.

Old Japanese proverb: Beware yesterday’s sushi.

Loyalty.

I’m kind of like Amber on that one. I grew up watching musketeer movies and old Starsky & Hutch re-runs, so the buddy mechanics are burned into my brain. Loyalty is something I value above most virtues.

By loyalty though, I don’t mean easily given loyalties – like the ones expected of you by an employer or a coffee shop. I mean real loyalties. Ones that last. People looking after each other-type loyalties. I’ll come rescue you if you get kidnapped by the Taliban type loyalties. If you earn that level of loyalty from me, consider yourself lucky. I’ll never let you fall and I’ll never sell you out. There’s no compromise there.

Food.

You are what you eat. I’m not doing myself any good by putting crap into my body.

Effort.

I get paid the same whether I spend ten hours half-assing a project or ten hours rocking it like nobody’s business, so why in the world would I not go for the option that will produce the best possible outcome, make the client deliriously happy and make me look like a god? I have a reputation to preserve.

Heck, I have a reputation to purposely smash regularly and rebuild like Oscar Goldman did Steve Austin: Better, faster, stronger. If anything is worth doing, it is worth doing exceedingly well. (Or as Gary Vaynerchuck would say “crush it.”)

Clarity.

Say what you mean. Mean what you say. That is all.

Manners.

Either you have manners or you don’t. If you treat waitstaff like crap, you and I aren’t doing business. If you are rude to me or anyone in my circle, ditto. If you make fun of the French (for real, not just to mess with me), d-i-t-t-o.

I am pretty uncompromising when it comes to people acting like self-important pricks. Manners matter a lot to me. It’s the little things.

Olive Oil.

Extra virgin. No mas, no menos.

Goals. Targets. Objectives.

Once set, they’re set. You don’t lower them. You don’t stop until you achieve them. When it comes to hitting a target, there’s the bull’s eye, and then there’s not. People who sold you on the bull’s eye but then tell you why less is just as good when they can’t seem to hit it are full of crap.

If this is an area of frequent compromise for you, either learn how to set them, or learn how to hit them. Either way, there’s no alternative to delivering on your promise once you’re in play. Compromise can’t live here. Ever.

Running shoes.

They either work or they don’t. I don’t care how cool they look or what logo they sport. Once you’ve developed ITBS, you learn not to screw around with running shoes. Even when that cool blue pair is 50% off.

Seatbelts. Helmets. Eye protection. Body armor. Brain-Mouth filter.

Taking risks doesn’t mean being an idiot.

The English Language.

If I can become fluent, anyone can. And should. Grammar and spelling are not optional. (Inventing new words though, is perfectly acceptable. Recommended, even.)

If a language is worth speaking, it is worth speaking well.

Jeans. Suits. Dress shirts. Overcoats. Couture of all origins.

They must fit just right. There is no compromise here. (Not just saying that because I’m French. Style knows no borders.)

Credibility.

Like your virginity, you can really only lose it once. Credibility is one of the most underrated and overlooked elements of a reputation, yet… without it, nothing else matters: Not talent, not work ethic, not intelligence. Once people start second-guessing your insights, your motives, your decisions, you’re done.

Quality.

If I pay for it, I expect it. Likewise, if someone pays me well, I fully intend to give them their money’s worth.

The family honor.

Many died fighting for it. It isn’t crashing and burning on my watch.

National security.

Note to the TSA: Boarding a plane with a 4.6oz tube of toothpaste doesn’t count.

The blood feud you don’t yet know about.

There’s no compromise in a blood feud. Only escalation and the sweet sweet taste of revenge. (Kidding!!! … But… maybe not.)

Knots.

If you’re a sailor and/or a rock climber, you know this too. You just don’t half-ass knots.

Toilet paper.

This one should require no explanation.

My good name.

Actually, no… wait… Scratch that. Everyone knows I’m a scoundrel.

Self respect.

No job and no amount of money is worth allowing someone to treat you poorly. Getting yelled at and dragged through the mud is fine if you’re in the military. You volunteer for that and it’s part of the fun. But in the business world, if someone treats you badly, don’t you dare let them get away with it. Once it starts, you’re screwed.

Success.

(See “goals, targets, objectives” above.) Status quo outcomes are never successes, no matter how many mediocre managers and business executives try to convince you otherwise. There’s no compromise here: Success has a smell, a flavor, a feel. Success rocks. Success feels like a million bucks. Success is a slam-dunk high-five that makes everyone look on with envy. Success makes you feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Success is real and it’s earned and it doesn’t come to you without a hell of a fight. Compromise there, and you’re a chump. (One of the many reasons why measurement is important. It keeps bullsh*t at bay.)

Vision.

If you imagine the best, why settle for average?

Ever looked at the transition between concept cars and production cars and wonder… “what happened?! That concept car was cool! This thing looks nothing like it! “

Yeah, that’s the effect that compromise has on vision.

Do you think the iPhone’s design was a compromise? Do you think that a Canon L-series lens is a compromise? Do you think that a Moleskine notebook is a compromise? A Cartier Tank? An Yves St. Laurent blazer? A Cervelo bicycle? My grandmother’s chocolate mousse? The Virgin Airlines experience? The screenplay in a Pixar film?

Should vision be adaptable? Sure. Should it be fluid? Absolutely. But there is an enormous difference between fluidity and compromise. Some of it deals with the outcome, but a lot of it has to do with intent. And purpose. And relevance.

Compromise is sometimes necessary, even good – especially in matters of public policy – but in business, it often sucks. It’s interesting, when you think about it, that the larger the number of people affected by a compromise, the more benign its impact, but narrow your focus down to individuals, and compromise almost always ends up in the negative column.

A compromise basically means that you gave up on getting the full monty and settled for less than ideal. Next thing you know, your diet is a compromise. Your relationship is a compromise. Your job is a compromise. Your car. Your wardrobe. Your career. Everything from your Saturday afternoon to your political beliefs, they all become compromises.

Some things are too important. Some things deserve champions, not compromises. Some things deserve to be seen through all the way, no matter how hard, no matter what the obstacles. And yeah, everyone can be a champion for something. Everyone should be. An idea, a product, a virtue, a cause… It doesn’t matter. It’s up to you.

Cultures of compromise typically don’t breed much aside from maybe mediocrity.

Chew on that for a few minutes. It’ll be well worth your while.

So… what’s on your list?

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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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You would think that we wouldn’t need to bring this up anymore, but I have noticed recently that some folks still have a little trouble separating Vision from Strategy, and Strategy from Tactics. So for everyone’s benefit, let’s go over the differences between the three, this time courtesy of the very bright Christopher S. Penn:

Vision: If you don’t know why you’re in business, if you don’t know why you get up in the morning every day, you don’t have vision. You don’t have a reason, you can’t answer the question of why.

When the alarm rings at 4:55 AM every weekday, I get up and go to the Student Loan Network with the overarching reason of going to help someone get an education. I believe in education. I believe that education on the whole makes things better, makes society better, and in true enlightened self interest, makes my world better. Smarter people around me means better conversation, better ideas, better friends. Smarter coworkers and colleagues means higher paid colleagues and my share of the tax burden decreases proportionally the smarter and more talented everyone else is.

If you can’t answer why your company exists (besides make money), then you have no vision.

Strategy: Strategy is knowing the destination. Knowing where you want to go, knowing what the goal is. Strategy is having defined, achievable goals that are in alignment with your vision.

If my vision is to help someone get a better education, my strategy is to develop trusted relationships with that someone so that we mutually benefit. I vend products and services that I believe in, that will legitimately help my customer achieve a better education, and I am compensated in return. If I say I want to build one million trusted relationships with customers to help them afford an education, that’s a strategy. That’s where I’m going.

If you can’t answer where your company is going, then you have no strategy.

Tactics: Knowing how to get there, how to get to our destination, how to achieve on a turn by turn basis the mission of getting the van to the end point. I need a map.

If my strategy is to build one million trusted relationships with customers, then I need allies. I need to develop relationships with influencers and force multipliers who can help me share things like the Financial Aid Podcast. I need tools like Blue Sky Factory’s Publicaster email service, I need techniques like search engine optimization, I need great products and services that are worth talking about so that others are so inspired that they want to talk about them without my goading them to.

If you can’t answer how your company is going to actually get to the destination, then you have no tactics.

Let’s review:

Vision: Why are we even getting in the van?
Strategy: Where are we going?
Tactics: How are we going to get there?

Finally, a couple of key mistakes I’ve seen especially in social media.

“It’s all about the community!” Wrong. That’s like saying, “Put more people in the van!” So what? Now you have a van full of people. Do you know why they are there at all? Do you know where you’re going? Or are you just in a van with a bunch of people hoping someone else drives ahead of you and you can tag along?

“It’s all about driving traffic to our shiny 2.0 widgety trendsetting flexible scalable social media hub!” Wrong. That’s like saying, “Drive the van faster!” So what? You’re driving the van really fast. Do you have any idea where the van is actually going? Drive the van faster is both useless and dangerous, especially if faster means into a telephone pole.

“It’s all about being remarkable!” Wrong. You’ve got a nice van. A really nice van. A tricked out van. So what? The product is not the marketing. Yes, absolutely, taking a road trip in a nice luxury limo will be a lot more pleasant than taking a road trip in a beaten up Yugo. But if you don’t know where you’re going, you have no map, and you don’t know why, all you have is a nice van, and while it’s remarkable, you’re still not going anywhere.

Remember: why? where? how? and you’ll know vision, strategy, and tactics.

Simplicity at its best.

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Come to think of it, let’s just call movie critics as a whole “morons.” How about this: Go see movies for yourselves, and make up your own minds as to whether or not they pushed the right buttons for you.

But back to the Wachowski Brothers’ Speed Racer: You may hear or read a lot of bad reviews about the film. Things being said will fall along the lines of…”Too cartoonish” or “too C.G.I.-looking,” or the most annoying yet “looks more like a video game than a movie.” Bleh.

Not to mention the fact that by catering its marketing to a VERY young audience, Speed Racer may not reach its audience and fail at the box office… which would be an awful shame, because it is actually a VERY good movie. You just have to a) completely embrace its style, b) leave your adult brain at home, c) embrace the insanely bold use of the medium, and d) understand the level to which this movie elevate the source material.

Yes, the movie looks like a video game in the sense that it looks nothing like our world. This may be one of the most colorful and purposely artificial movie you’ll ever see. The look of the film, with its unapologetic overdose of bright colors, its unbelievably blue skies and the very unique artificial look is part of its genius.

If you don’t like the look of movies like “Sin City,” “Moulin Rouge” or “300,” the visual style of Speed Racer may not be your cup of tea either. If, however, you can appreciate a unique visual style that successfully bridges the gap between the original source material and the movie adaptation, you can easily look at Speed Racer as an art film – which it so clearly is.

The movie is completely over the top in every possible way. As a matter of fact, I would go as far as to say that the film is completely ridiculous. From the laugh-outloud chimp kung fu fantasies to Racer X punching another driver in the face while both cars are performing insane side-flip maneuvers at 500 kph, the movie completely embraces its cartoonish high octane nature – which is precisely why it scores. The Wachowski brothers obviously didn’t hold back here – and actually went above and beyond what lesser writers & directors would have created. This movie is as far out there as it could possibly be, and it is refreshing as hell to see a movie so uncompromisingly edgy and full of child-like enthusiasm.

Surprisingly, Speed Racer is absolutely not a brainless visualfest. The script is surprisingly solid, and the actors absolutely kick ass. Just as Robert Downey Jr. elevates Ironman through his inspired portrayal of Tony Stark, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman infuse the movie with perfectly metered and stunning performances during key scenes late in the movie. These moments are absolutely priceless bits of movie-making and bring unexpected depth to an otherwise escapist underdog movie. Matthew Fox shines as Racer X, Emile Hirsch is completely believable and endearing as Speed Racer, and I must say that Christina Ricci is actually pretty hot as Trixie. The kid brother and the chimp are at occasionally annoying (probably not to an eight-year-old though), but overall, they made me laugh alot more than I care to admit.

The Brandbuilder blog isn’t a movie review site, so I’ll stop here… but I didn’t want the bonehead reviews I’ve read today to negatively influence any of you – my readers – when it comes to this movie. Speed Racer is actually a work of genius. Most people probably won’t get why or how, but then again, edgy doesn’t appeal to most people. The masses will most likely look at Speed Racer purely as an over-the-top cartoonish movie version of a bad 1980’s anime series, aimed at pleasing little kids… but it is on every level an entertaining art film that blends stunningly rendered visual effects, lots of action, superb casting, solid character development, impressive acting, some pretty funny stuff, a classic underdog story, kung fu and chimp humor to create a very unique package.

Mark my words: This flick is nothing short of a classic.

Even if you end up hating Speed Racer, you should go see it – chances are, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Bonus: Check out this article about the film’s technical aspects in Wired.

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Below is some pretty delicious advice from Jim Buckmaster (CEO of Craiglist), courtesy of Lucy Kellaway, via AdPulp, from an Orange Yeti link. (whew.)

  • Listen to what users want. Try to make the site faster and better.
  • Hire good people. “We work hard trying to get the right kind of folks.” It pays off: they hardly ever leave.
  • No meetings, ever. “I find them stupefying and useless.”
  • No management programmes and no MBAs. “I’ve always thought that sort of thing was baloney.”
  • Forget the figures. “We are consistently in the black, so if we do better or worse in any given quarter it is absolutely irrelevant.”
  • Occasionally, give people “a very gentle nudge”. This can be done over lunch or on the instant messaging boards.
  • He doesn’t reply to any of his 100 daily messages, most of which beg Craigslist to do a deal. “I’m not real chatty on e-mail.”
  • Put speed over perfection: “Get something out there. Do it, even if it isn’t perfect.”
  • “Don’t screw it up by doing things that make people feel worse about their work.”

The speed over perfection thing is a bit iffy in my little world, but I can respect the spirit behind the momentum Jim is after with this philosophy: Sometimes, speed is a whole lot more important than perfection. (You can always upgrade your product later if needed.)

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. 😉

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