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Posts Tagged ‘courage’

Every day, I run into people who seem emotionally and intellectually stunted. The amount of money in their bank accounts, the kinds of cars they drive, the square footage of their house or condo or sailboat, the job title printed on their business cards, none of that matters. They all have something in common: they seem limited in their ability to empathize with others. Worse, they even have trouble empathizing with themselves, which is far more problematic. Most seem at times unable to enjoy their lives in those moments when they aren’t making news or signing huge clients, or somehow living the “being successful” narrative they’ve pinned a whole lot of their self worth on. There’s a faint echo of bitterness there that you can hear when they talk about others. There is always also a deliberate – if regretful – detachment from the world that makes me a little sad to be around them. Far more obvious though is the undercurrent of fear that casts its shadow on almost everything they say and do.

They take that with them everywhere they go. Their kitchen, their blog, their job, their vacations, their workouts, their relationships… It isn’t the sort of thing they can tuck away. I’ve worked with many of them. I’ve worked for some of them. It’s always a little depressing. You see all the things that they are, all the things that they could be, and you want to focus on all that potential, but the reality is that you’re stuck in a version of the world in which that potential will probably never be released, and that’s a damn shame.

I know what they’re missing. I know what the missing piece is. It’s art. I mean, it’s more complicated than that, sure. But toss an art bomb into their trench, and you’ll see their lives (and the lives of the people around them) completely transformed.

In business, in love, in life, art matters. It really does. Especially our own. And I’m not talking about putting colors on a square of canvas or blowing into a trombone. I’m talking about opening doors and letting shit out that we wish we had the balls to share with our loved ones, with peers, with complete strangers. I am talking about giving form to the abstract currents of our hearts. Fear, love, anger, lust… You can’t let it all sit there, locked up for fear that people will reject you if you give them a glimpse. Hiding your vulnerabilities isn’t strength. It’s just hiding. Courage is letting it all out. It’s being more than the “personal brand” you’ve built to hide behind. Art isn’t pretty things on a wall. It isn’t the product of a hobbyist. It isn’t an abstract outlet for socially awkward intellectuals and “artsy types.” It’s is a vehicle for exploration and discovery, which is to say that it’s a vehicle for courage. Art provides human beings with the medium, discipline and language to open those secret doors and windows, to air out their dreams, their demons, their fears, their desires, all of it, and see how far their minds can go when they aren’t weighed down by fear and pain and bullshit.

Courage isn’t just picking up a rifle and going to war, by the way. It isn’t just standing up to a bully or doing the right thing when no one else will. Courage is also picking up a paint brush or a guitar or a lump of clay. It’s putting words on page after page for 6 straight months. It’s allowing yourself to be overcome with emotion while watching a movie and not giving a shit that the person sitting next to you sees you crying. It’s dancing or singing in front of a crowd. It’s letting the pencil, the scalpel, the chisel, the baseball bat and the steering wheel go where they want to, without fear. It’s trusting your skills, your instincts. It’s letting go of all of your baggage and your life’s hangups and just doing something pure and 100% in the moment. It doesn’t matter if that’s leading a team, crafting ad copy, designing a website, revamping a customer service program, flying a combat mission, assembling a pair of sunglasses, editing a movie or pulling a country out of a financial ditch. Art is the ingredient X behind every discovery, every evolutionary leap, every victory. Without a little art in your science, you’re really just playing at following best practices. You’re just going through the motions, playing it safe, coloring inside the lines.

By the way, there’s more to art than stuff like this:

This is art too:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

Look at children. They’re natural artists. You know why? Because they don’t give a shit how their drawing and singing and banging on piano keys makes them look. They’re not saddled with social anxiety yet. They aren’t afraid of being rejected. Letting art into your life teaches you to hold on to that fearlessness.

Let me tell you something I’ve learned in the last few decades, both in the military and the private sector: anything that helps you hold on to who you are, anything that helps you be who you are, and anything that helps you walk through your day with a little more courage, self assurance and self-knowledge will make you not only a more complete person but a better leader as well. Period. You want to know what our kids need more of? Art. Every time I hear of an art program being cut somewhere, I cringe because I know where it leads. Every time I hear someone scoff about art, belittle it, treat it as a waste of time, I can’t help but shake my head at the short-shortsightedness of that opinion. We don’t need more math. Trust me. What we need more of is art.

Art is at the heart of every civilization, of every major technological, scientific, political and philosophical breakthrough. There can be no civilization without art because there can be no civilization without culture. Humans physically cannot function without it. From cave paintings to playing a Will-i-am song on Mars, art is at the core of everything that moves us beyond hunting for food, protecting our territory and breeding. Art is the force inside and the current between all of us that unlocks and feeds our humanity. A nation without art will break apart and die as surely as a company or brand without art will never invent anything worth remembering. 

No matter what our choice of profession is – CEO, auto mechanic, surgeon, soldier, EMT, assembly line worker, politician, restaurant manager, samurai, etc. – we’re all artists. All of us. You leave the art bottled up inside you, and your career will never reach its full potential. In life and love outside of work, you’ll always wonder why you feel stalled, why you feel alone, why you can’t connect with people the way you wish you could. You’ll always be a fraction of who you should be, of who you would like to be. But if you can find a way to let it out, to give it form, to embrace it, to let it permeate into every aspect of your life – professional and otherwise, – you will grow into a much happier, more fulfilled person. I don’t think that’s true. I know that’s true. I see it every single day.

One last thing to chew on, because in the end, it all begins and ends with you. Everything else in your life radiates outward from what goes on in your head: Your career, your friendships, your health, your sense of self-worth, your happiness, your achievements, how you gauge success… everything.  That last thing, it’s this: life without art is like sunshine without warmth.

Or as my old friend Kenn Sparks always likes to say, “Most people die with the music still in them.” – Josef Haydn.

He has a point.

Let it out. Break free. Grow into who you were supposed to be. Change the world. Show others the way. (Or keep being moderately happy. Your choice.)

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

 

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

 

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Part 2: Fear, career potholes and the weight of social shame.

“I’m afraid to tell people that I am closing my business because I’m afraid of what they’ll think,” was one admission from a panelist.

“My identity was so tied to my job/title that now that I am on my own, I’m not sure how to handle that,” was another.

One acquaintance in the audience seemed a little hesitant when he told me that he had jumped back into the corporate world – as if I might think that was a bad thing because… I might see it as a failure on his part, somehow. (Why would I? People change jobs all the time. people open and close businesses too. It’s a natural cycle.)

Weird how all these different situations had one thing in common: Fear. There was far more angst in that room than I had anticipated. Lots of private thoughts along the lines of “what will people think?” and uneasiness about the stigma that comes from having perhaps failed at something. Lots of people not quite comfortable with lying about it but not quite comfortable admitting it either.

Why? The term social shame comes to mind. Almost everyone in the room seemed traumatized by having been fired, laid off or having failed at building a successful business.

More than a few people in that room worried about what admitting to having failed (or being fired or downsized) might do to their personal brand too. That’s a hell of a burden to carry around, and an unnecessary one at that.

And you know what? I get it. Most of us have been there or are there or will be there at some point. Case in point: In almost 20 years of being an adult, I’ve been fired twice. Not laid off: Fired. For a long time, I was ashamed to admit it. I thought people would hold it against me, that they would assume I sucked at my job or had done something horrible to lose my job. I assumed it would be a double black mark on my employment record. Then one day I realized that was ridiculous. The failures were not my own.

The first time I was fired was a simple case of a CEO being a bully. Dignity and self-respect won. The job lost. As much as I enjoyed the steady paycheck and the job itself, it was an easy choice to make. The loser in that short conflict was the company, not me. (I went on to better and greater things. They didn’t.)

The second time was because my boss wanted me to sign off on fraudulent invoices and bonus manipulation, among other things. I refused to take part in it. The choice was again simple for me: I didn’t need a paycheck that badly. (I’m not going to federal prison for any employer. Not my idea of a good career move.) I was fired within days of refusing to join the scheme. Again, guess who was the loser in that instance? For the second time in my career, I went on to better and greater thing. They didn’t.

As it turns out, getting fired was a great move for me: None of the jobs I had until I went off on my own involved flying to Sydney or Amsterdam or Dubai for business. None of them gave me the opportunity to speak in front of big crowds or meet so many interesting professionals from all over the world. None of those jobs ever gave me the flexibility to spend 2 months in France in the summer with my wife and kids (and dogs) and work from there if I wanted to. None of them would have allowed my life-long dream of publishing a book (and now there are more on the way). I don’t have to work with assholes or shady people if I don’t want to. I don’t have to kiss anyone’s ass to get a promotion. I don’t have to deal with back-stabbers or mean, jealous petty people anymore. Nobody micromanages me. I don’t have to lie to anyone. I have the freedom to succeed or fail on my own terms. There’s also the risk of failure. I have to live with that, but it’s worth it. I love what I do. I love my freedom, however short-lived it may be.

None of these things would have happened if I hadn’t been fired. Getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to my professional career. I was lucky that it’s happened to me not once but twice. The fact that I only get fired once per decade tells me I’m still playing it way too safe. Imagine if I had been fired more often: I would have gotten to this point in my career a lot sooner. What I wouldn’t give for that. (This might be a good place to point out that both of these jobs were in South Carolina – a “right to work state” – where anyone can be fired for pretty much anything at any time for any reason with complete impunity.)

The folks at IDEO are right: Fail early and often. The faster you fail, the faster you work out the bugs. It’s a process. If there’s anything I wish I knew how to do better, it’s this: Quitting. If I knew how to quit, how to walk away, I would save myself the trouble of getting fired at all. (I’m still working on that.)

The thing is, I know this will fail too. What I am doing now won’t last forever. I’ll eventually fire myself or fail outright. Maybe I’ll take a job with an agency or with a company on the client side. Or maybe I’ll just decide to go open up an adventure-racing school in South Africa or a photo studio in Antibes. Why not? Life is an adventure. Don’t fight it. Roll with the punches. Go with the flow. See where the currents take you.

So here I was in this room, surrounded by people who felt pretty bad about having been fired or having (at least in their minds) failed in some way. Some were visibly ashamed. Others were mostly just confused about whether or not they should share what happened to them. Many were scared to some extent about what it meant, about what people might think, about how it would hurt their image or their chances of landing another good job in the future. I’ve been there too, and it’s not a great place to be in your life. No matter how clear your conscience may be, you still feel small, vulnerable and dejected.

For many of us, it goes far beyond fear and shame. There’s anger too: You feel betrayed by the people you served. You gave so much of yourself and made so many sacrifices for them – missing your kids’ soccer games, working late, often dealing with abuse or harassment, enduring ever-shrinking benefits and the annual insult commonly referred to as the annual “raise” because it was the right thing to do, because your believed it would eventually be worth it. You thought that if you could endure it long enough and jump through enough hoops, you would eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel, maybe even make a real difference. Well, that didn’t happen. Someone pulled out the rug from under you. All of the time, energy, love and hope you invested in that company, in your job, it all just evaporated. It’s an awful feeling. It’s traumatic. There’s no way to walk away from that unscathed. I guess the first thing to realize is that even though it’s happening to you, it isn’t just happening to you. It happens to pretty much everybody. It’s a lot easier to handle that kind of trauma and disappointment when you realize it happens to almost everyone. In fact, it happens to the best of us.

I wanted to make a point so I asked everyone in the room to raise their hands if they had ever been fired or laid off from a job. Almost everyone (including the panel) raised their hand. It was fascinating to see the looks of surprise on some people’s faces at the sight of all of those hands in the air. You could literally see the stress melt from a few of them just from knowing they weren’t alone. It helped, I think. At least I’d like to think so. You have to start somewhere.

Now… People in transition (moving back into the corporate world or moving out of it) could focus on personal branding and Klout score optimization. They could focus their energy on trying to become gurus and experts and ninjas, on raising their professional profiles by speaking at events and writing e-books… But none of that will really free them from the fear that will always hold them, their careers and their lives hostage. They’ll just be trading one prison for another, one dysfunctional professional path for another. And because that fear of social shame will be 1000x greater now that their career is “public” than when it was behind the corporate firewall, every potential failure along the way will carry with it a much greater burden. If you think that’s smart, go for it. If that sounds not so smart, you’re right. There’s more important inner work that needs to be done before launching into campaigns of self-promotion. Ask any political candidates whose campaign imploded about that. Ask any rock star or actor in rehab about it too. Ask any banker or accountant in federal prison the same question: How did you get here? Why did this happen? If they’ve given it any thought, they’ll all have the same answer. We’ll probably talk about that in Part 3.

What I want to focus on today though is fear: The fear of not only failing but admitting that you did. Now that I see how much damage and pain that kind of fear causes, I feel like sharing a few insights that our panel touched on with the rest of you. Some may apply to you. Others may not. You may disagree and that’s fine. I just hope that they will help somebody. Anybody.

So if you’re feeling bad about closing up shop or leaving a job, don’t. And if you know someone who’s having a really hard time with this right now, feel free to share this with them.

Here are a few takeaways from our panel on career transitions:

1. If you haven’t been fired at least once or twice in your career, you might not be doing it right. And if you haven’t failed once or twice at making a business successful, you probably aren’t thinking big enough. Go for failure #3 as soon as you can. Look, unless you’re insanely lucky, failure is part of the success equation. If you haven’t known any yet, chances are that you’re coloring inside the lines maybe a little too well. You might have even stopped moving forward and testing the limits of what you could do. If you’re 100% happy with that, great. If not, getting fired from a job that wasn’t right for you or not biting off more than you could chew with a big idea might not be the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. Sometimes, life has a weird and painful way of doing you favors. Try, fail, repeat. Try, succeed, repeat. Don’t ever stop. No matter what.

You might have heard it a thousand times already, but here’s the name I always think about when people wonder if they (or their spouse) can take one more failure: Thomas Edison. The guy tried and tried and tried to make his light bulb idea work until it did. Imagine if he had quit after 3 tries? 10 tries? 100? here’s what he had to say about when asked about his successive failures:

Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.

Try again. It doesn’t matter how many attempts it takes. Don’t quit just because it’s hard or people look at you funny. What have they ever done? You’ll never regret having tried and failed. I guarantee though that you will regret having quit or given up on a dream. There’s no question about it. Failure is necessary. Failure is good. It teaches you everything you didn’t think to ask.

It’s okay.

2. If you’ve been fired or downsized, if your business has ever failed or run its course, you aren’t alone. It isn’t just happening to you. People get fired and laid off all the time. Companies fail or just get stuck. It happens. Every job ends. Companies close their doors. Departments lose their funding. Assholes who hate you get promoted and fire you just out of spite or fear or jealousy. Learn whatever you can from each experience and move on. As painful and embarrassing as failure of any kind it may be, it is never truly a failure if you’ve derived a valuable insight from it and try again. Dust yourself off and try again. Every pioneer went through the same thing. What put them in the history books is this: Where others would have given up, they didn’t.  If you’re going to fail (and you will), you’re just like everyone else. If you want to get better results than everyone else, make every failure count.

3. Failures in your career hurt as much as failures in love. But pain is just pain. It wears off. Get a head start on the healing. Getting fired is like getting dumped by your boyfriend or girlfriend. It stings. It makes you feel like an asshole. It puts your self-worth in question. We’re just wired that way. If you feel bad about getting canned or laid off, welcome to being human. It’s healthy. Mourn, take a week off. Then get going again. Don’t take any of it personally. See #2.

4. This one is important as it relates to social shame: Nobody holds it against you that you’ve “failed” at anything. Seriously. Nobody is going to talk about you behind your back and peg you a failure. (Okay… perhaps your enemies will, but who cares what they think? They’re assholes anyway.) People in your community will never hold it against you if you’ve lost your job or if your startup failed. No one will ever peg you a loser or damaged goods or a liability as long as you learn from the experience and move on.

Think about it: Do you sit around and make fun of people who’ve been laid off? When Apple fired Steve Jobs back in the day, did we all have secret parties to make fun of him? No. If we even cared, we wondered what he was going to build next. It was exciting. And you know what, if he hadn’t been fired from Apple when he was, Apple might not have become what it is today. Worst case scenario: People are indifferent to your successes or failures. They’re just too busy with their own lives to notice or care about yours as much as you think they do. The rest of us want the best for everyone around us. We want people to succeed and be happy. So… if you’re feeling bad about where you are, chin up: A lot of us are rooting for you.

This whole notion of social shame in regards to failure is an illusion. Don’t fall for it. Your bakery or web design company failed after 14 months? That’s too bad. You’re still everyone’s hero for trying. People will miss that bakery or web design firm, sure, but they’ll only care about one thing: Now what? If you took a job at XYZ Manufacturing, people will be glad you did. If you’re launching a startup in the spring with a few investors, they’ll be thrilled too. Everyone wants you to do well. No one will ever hold it against you if you tried and fail as long as you keep trying. Chin up, kid. You don’t have to apologize. You don’t need to spin it or put on airs. Everybody runs into hurdles. Nothing to be ashamed of. Ever. Don’t do that to yourself. It’s a waste of energy anyway.

5. To quote Tyler Durden, “you are not your job.” You can say that you are your profession, sure, but you are not your job.

For starters, being a brand manager isn’t the same as being VP of Brand Communications at SCB Telecom*. If some douchebag at SCB Telecom gave you the pink slip because you didn’t support his horrible program three years ago and now he can get even with you, go be a brand manager somewhere else. (Hopefully somewhere that will value your contributions a little more than SCB Telecom did.) Being a designer is more important than just being the lead glove designer at Gucci or Chanel. You’re a designer no matter who you work for or what you design. If your company fails, if your label gets sold off, if your boss chases half your team away, it doesn’t change what or who you are.

Whenever a job ends, your profession doesn’t. Hop to another island. It may take six months to find one. It may take ten years of island-hopping to find the right one. You might not ever be happy until you discover your very own island. It doesn’t matter. What island you live on doesn’t change what you are. A job is just a job, no matter how cool it is.

* (Made-up company.)

More than that, you are more than just your profession. You’re also a lot of other things: A parent, a brother or sister, someone’s child, friend and neighbor, a sports fan, a foodie, an artist, a runner, a kite surfer, an equestrian… whatever your interests are. You aren’t just your job. You’re also your interests, your hobbies, your passions, your relationships, your life experiences and more still. Chances are that who you are is far more rooted in all of these things than to your job. So does your value as a human being.

Remember those 5 most common regrets people talk about on their deathbeds? That.

6. Don’t take failure so seriously. In fact, don’t take yourself so seriously either. Relax so you can learn. Learn so you can solve. Solve so you can adapt. Adapt so you can overcome.

Fear is the enemy of innovation. It’s the enemy of design, the enemy of progress. Fear of embarrassment, fear of failure, fear of rejection: They’re all working against you. Whenever fear tells you to back off from an idea or a goal, that’s when you know you’re onto something.

One way to kill fear of failure dead is to not worry so much about the shame and embarrassment that you’ve attached to that fear. Laugh more. Have more fun with what you’re doing. Don’t let stress get in the way. Whether you’re winning or losing, have fun. Ever listened to an 80-year old tell an embarrassing story from their youth? As mortified as they may have been then, they can look back on it now and laugh. That doesn’t suck.

If you’re going to crash and burn, do it with style. Don’t slink away. Crash, burn, get up, take a bow, then go laugh it off. If you can ever learn to laugh at failure and carry on, no one and nothing will ever be able to break your will. Ever.

Look around. Almost everyone around you has failed at something. They may hide it well, but they have.

7. Put it all in perspective: Nobody is shooting at you. You aren’t being targeted by enemy artillery. You didn’t just lose a leg or an arm in a roadside I.E.D. attack. You don’t have cancer. There’s no giant tidal wave about to crush and drown you, no nuclear power plant a mile away about to melt down. That shit is bad. Losing your job or closing down your company isn’t. Get over the fear and embarrassment. They’re a waste of energy. You’re going to be fine. Okay? This is small stuff.

8. Every job has a beginning and an end. Period. One way or another, the job you have today will end someday. Could be tomorrow. Could be next week. Could be in twenty years. How it ends or why might not even matter. What matters is that the inevitable is… well, inevitable.

If you’ve never seen The Kingdom, there’s a great scene in which FBI Director James Grace (played by the always brilliant Richard Jenkins) is being pressured to act against his conscience by the Attorney General (his boss). It’s clear in the scene that the AG won’t take no for an answer. James Grace knows if he doesn’t play nice, his career at the FBI is over. Instead of caving to pressure just to save his own ass, he shares with the AG what he learned long ago about the nature of jobs. After a brief pause, this is his answer to the threat:

You know, Westmoreland made all of us officers write our own obituaries during Tet, when we thought The Cong were gonna end it all right there. And, once we clued into the fact that life is finite, the thought of losing it didn’t scare us anymore. The end comes no matter what, the only thing that matters is how do you wanna go out: On your feet or on your knees.

I bring that lesson to this job. I act, knowing that someday this job will end, no matter what. You should do the same. 

There’s a lot of wisdom in that answer. A lot of courage too, but a lot of wisdom. Heed it.

Every company runs its course. Every job ends. When you remember that you are far more than your job, that life is about more than the title on a business card, the necessary failures you’ll encounter along the way won’t seem so big anymore.

Do the best you can. If you trip and fall or life punches you in the face, get back up. Lean on your family and friends. Banish embarrassment to the curb. Don’t bear the burden of fear, shame or sadness alone. Do whatever you have to do to get back on your feet as fast as possible and just start putting one foot in front of the other again.

Someday, when you’re on your deathbed too, you will regret every minute you wasted feeling sorry for yourself. You’ll wish you had a way to erase every day that you “waited” to try again and do them all over again.

I’ve rambled long enough. Stay tuned for Part 3. We’ll be talking about the danger and ultimate price of bullshit. In the meantime, put your own work aside and go help someone kick ass today. You’ll be amazed how rewarding that feels.

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

The social business building textbook for executives. Now available everywhere:

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Today’s post isn’t going to be about brand management, marketing, advertising, PR, or best practices for social media programs. In fact, this post isn’t going to be about any of the things I usually talk about on this blog. I won’t give you any advice, share any professional insights or teach you how to do anything that will enhance your campaigns or make your companies kick ass. Today, I just want to lend a helping hand to a few people in my life who have fallen on hard, if not slightly dark and scary times. Some of these friends are people I have known for a long time. Others are people I have come to know through Twitter, Facebook, or this blog. More still may be people I haven’t met yet, but will thanks to this post.

All of these folks have something in common: They have had a shitty week. One found out she has a rare health condition that could change her whole life. Another buried her sister. A third lost a job he absolutely lived for. A fourth is heartbroken. A fifth lost hope, which is just about one of the worst things that can happen to a human soul.

I could sit here and wax philosophical about ups and downs, cycles being mere moments in time, about the need for patience and courage and even perseverance, about the fact that as humans, we fall on our faces sometimes, we screw up, bad things just happen out of the blue and for no apparent reason, but you know how long-winded I can get. So instead, here is a collection of insights from people far smarter and wiser than me, that will hopefully bring some solace, if not comfort, to anyone having a really horrible week:

What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
– T. S. Eliot

Discontent is the first necessity of progress.
– Thomas Edison

Fall seven times, stand up eight.
– Japanese Proverb

If we screw it up, start over. Try something else.
– Lee Iacocca

Failure does not exist. Failure is simply someone else’s opinion of how a certain act should have been completed. Once you believe that no act must be performed in any specific other-directed way, then failing becomes impossible.
– Wayne Dyer

Celebrate endings – for they precede new beginnings.
– Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
– Nelson Mandela

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature.
– Helen Keller

If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.
– Dolly Parton

To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see every day, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform.
– Theodore H. White

This thing we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down.
– Mary Pickford

Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.
– Raymond Lindquist

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
– Winston Churchill

The starting point of all achievement is desire.
– Napoleon Hill

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
– Anne Frank

Let me end this post with a quick anecdote. Yesterday, an old friend posted this to his Facebook page from his cell phone:

if I had not pulled the woman back onto the sidewalk just now, she would no doubt be dead.

holy shit. really.

Which, of course was followed by this:

what if I had gone to lunch at a normal time instead of 2pm? what if I had been texting? what if I had decided to go to subway instead of lamazou for lunch?

Life is a pretty wild little adventure. You get beaten to a pulp sometimes. Other times, you’re ready to take on the world. Truth is, very little of it is really ever under your control. You do the best you can. Sometimes things work out, sometimes things don’t. But in spite of all the success and failure, in spite of the great moments and the horrible ones, everyone gets to save the world in some way at pretty regular intervals. We impact each other’s lives every single day. The butterfly effect is still real and relevant, perhaps more so today with human beings becoming ever more connected through technology and social platforms. We all share each other’s wins and losses. We all participate in each other’s lives. We can help each other better, faster, longer, and across vast distances.

If today sucks, if it is the hardest day you’ve ever had to endure in your entire life, hang in there. Someone’s life might depend on it tomorrow or next week. Your next tweet or blog post could change someone’s life. Your next idea could revolutionize an industry. Your next walk to Lamazou (or Subway) for lunch could save someone’s life.

Hang in there. It’s important that you do.

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doug-benc-getty-images-b

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post on adopting a leadership attitude. (If you can’t see the above image on your RSS reader, click here. The picture pretty much IS the post.)

Okay, so… Check out the two boxers in the image. Which one do you want to be? Which one are you most acting like today?

Be honest now.

I know that everyone wants to be the guy on the right… but are you actually acting like the guy on the right? Are you thinking like the guy on the right? Are you running your business like the guy on the right? Have you connected the dots between the image and the words?

I received a lot of emails, tweets and comments about this yesterday, many from business owners who were a little stressed out by the outcome of the presidential elections, so I think it is important for everyone to take a deep breath and take inventory of what is and what isn’t: Fear of what may come – any kind of fear for that matter – is not something business leaders can afford to fall prey to, especially now. Fear is distracting. Fear distorts reality. Fear immobilizes. Fear is the enemy of progress, innovation and growth. Fear is the enemy of success. Your success. Don’t let fear, especially fear of the unknown creep into your brain. Just don’t.

Repeat after me: “Fear, go away! Go on now, shoo!” 😀

When in doubt or cornered, focus on what you can control. Focus on what you know. Focus on what you can see and affect NOW: Bringing more value to your customers. Increasing traffic to your website or stores. Improving customer service. Improving employee morale. Building strong user communities. Finding better ways to engage with your customers, boost customer loyalty, and build the foundations of a stronger brand. There are ways you can cut costs without cutting corners. There are ways to cut costs and keep all of your staff employed. There are ways to cut costs and actually grow your business. Find them. Every problem facing your business today is either an opportunity for you to leap ahead tomorrow, or an excuse to fail. Do not let your fears and worries distract you. (And if you have to stop listening to talk radio for a few days, by all means, do.)

Keep your focus. Feed your confidence. Dare to be bold. Take all of the things that have made you successful until now and use them: All of your strengths. All of your skills. All of your knowledge. Making your business successful in the coming year is going to require the kind of commitment, focus and courage that turns ordinary people into champions, soldiers into heroes, and managers into leaders. This is your challenge, and as long as you truly embrace it, you will not fall short. I promise you.

None of us can afford to be distracted by negative thoughts about what may or may not happen a year from now. Be in this moment. Work in this moment. Kick ass in this moment. Then let this moment stretch into the hours, days, weeks and months ahead until either a) the economy is healthy again, or b) you’ve realized that the economy doesn’t matter because you are not at its mercy.

Look up at the boxers one last time. The choice you are facing is simple: Be the guy on the right side of the image, and you’ll do great. Be the distracted guy on the left, and you won’t. The choice is 100% yours: Stay focused.

Have a GREAT day, everyone!

Incidentally, for those of you who inquired over the years as to when the brandbuilder would finally become more than a blog, guess what: With so many small businesses reaching out these last few months, the time has finally come for me to roll up my sleeves and help companies build better futures for themselves full time. More details on the what, how and when very soon, but yeah, I am VERY excited.

My name is Olivier Blanchard, and I approve this message.

Original photo: Doug Benc/Getty Images

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Robert Killick on the need for intellectual curiosity and courage in the face of “unknowns” in today’s business leaders:

Risk was once seen as a catalyst for competitiveness, innovation and change in enterprise culture. Now it is seen as a negative barrier to be avoided with all sorts of precautionary measures. ‘Risk consciousness’ is the order of the day, but the preference to always dig up the dark side of humanity betrays a lack of faith in human reason. Curiosity and foolhardiness are often derided as irresponsible and egotistical traits, but the great heroes of the past have taken personal risks that benefit all of us.

Today, research and experimentation that does not have a measurable ‘positive effect’ is seen as irresponsible. Yet it is precisely through experimentation, risk – and, yes, mistakes – that some of the major scientific breakthroughs and technological inventions have come about. Without risky experimentation, and without individuals willing to take those risks in the pursuit of knowledge, we wouldn’t have aeroplanes, penicillin, MRI scans or X-rays.

The ability to handle risk – though technology, human ingenuity, reason and resilience – is a measure of modernity and it can only be achieved through more experimentation, not less. The hard won freedoms to creative expression, communication and to technological innovation should be treasured, and the twenty-first century should be when we take them even further.

Risk-adverse/risk-paralyzed leaders aren’t leaders at all. At best, they are followers promoted or appointed to positions they should have had enough common sense, integrity and professionalism to turn down.

Fact: Leaders “lead.” They take their companies in a specific direction and make sure that course corrections occur as needed along the way. Standing still, ignoring emerging market trends, rewarding business-as-usual strategies, waiting for competitors to make a move before testing the waters, or building protective walls around organizations are not examples of leadership.

No one is advocating making rash decisions of course, but in order for companies to be successful, their leaders must possess certain key personality traits – among them the essential combination of vision, courage and an unbreakable pioneering streak.

Bear this in mine when placing your bets on a company, new boss or potential candidates for an executive-level position.

Have a great week, everyone!

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Even if you don’t care for cycling, even if you think that watching cycling on TV (or in real life) is as boring as watching the grass grow – only with more lycra and crazy looking sunglasses, you might still want to head over to VS. tonight (yes, the TV network) and watch today’s Tour De France coverage.

Judging from the RSS feed of today’s stage, Stage 17 sounds epic. No… not epic. EPIC: Not one, not two, but THREE major (HC) mountain climbs (the crushing Col du Galibier, the leg-shredding Col de la Croix de Fer, and the Holy Grail of cycling: Alpe D’Huez), the best riders in the world struggling to stay in the race, crashes galore, cyclists misjudging turns in 70mph descents and flying off mountainsides… It is absolutely insane.

Sure, I miss the early days of Lance Armstrong’s dominance – when the show was all about his crushing superiority on the climbs and in the time-trial, but this is spectacle. Pure, raw warfare on wheels. No engines. No time-outs. No half-times. No substitutions. Just sweat, blood and grit against some of the most spectacular vistas in the world. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know one rider from the next. This kind of stage is so intense, so pure, that you will find yourself rooting and cheering for the guy with the most heart. The most huevos. The guy who wants the stage win the most. You will find yourself cheering for a guy whose name you can’t even pronounce and whom you have never heard of before. That dude in green, or that dude in white or orange or blue. Who knows.

Whether you’re into cycling or not, this is truly sport at its best. Skip the sitcom re-runs tonight and tune in to VS. for a couple of hours. If the climbing portions bore you, stick around for the descents. (Between the full speed motorbike cameras and the sweeping helicopter shots, you are sure to gain a whole new appreciation for what is without a doubt one of the toughest and most dangerous sports in the world.)

Seriously. Wow.

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