The Curse of Knowledge… Can you escape it?

Fortune-teller-2Most everyone involved in creating and selling a product or service is probably familiar with the distinctions between features and benefits.


  • Features = 20-Volt Cordless Compact Drill features a slim and ergonomic handle to provide an excellent balance and superb control during use. This tool delivers variable speeds of 0 – 600 RPM and 0 – 2,000 RPM for a range of drilling applications, and a compact and lightweight design. 2 fast-charging, lithium-ion batteries are included along with a charger, kit box, belt hook and on-board bit holder.
  • Benefits = A hole.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that. From the list of features, I can infer additional value added benefits.

These might be that, while I am drilling my hole or holes, I will experience less fatigue because of the lightweight design and ergonomic handle.

I might also be able to get more done because I won’t have to switch tools to work in tight areas and I’ll have two fast-charging batteries to keep me powered up and untethered to a fixed power source.

The thing is, most people won’t take the time and effort to make these inferences. Your competitor, the one who connects the dots and communicates the benefits, gets the sale.

The people who create and launch products and services often get caught up in the design, development and technical specifications of “their babies”.

This is only natural. After all, you poured your heart and souls into the project. You know exactly how innovative, sophisticated and complex the outcome is and you can’t wait to share all the bright, shiny details that distinguish your accomplishment. You have fallen victim to…(here’s where the dramatic, three-chord progression should go) The Curse of Knowledge!

Know what? Most people don’t care about the details.

Know why it’s a curse? Because the details don’t have an immediate, intuitive impact on the customers’ experience and don’t influence their decision to buy.

That doesn’t mean the details aren’t important. They reinforce the decision. They should wait quietly in the background until deeper customer inspection is prompted by a convincing appeal to the customer’s most pressing interests and emotions.

How to escape the Curse of Knowledge

Put most simply, you escape the curse by succinctly answering the question, “will this solve my problem?”.

How? By following these relatively simple but indispensable principles and processes.

Research – Don’t freak out here. You don’t need to go crazy spending big bucks on market research firms and consultants.

It may be as simple as gathering a few customers and prospects together and asking them to listen to your pitch or try the product.

  • Buy them dinner or drinks & snacks.
  • Keep it short, tight and focused. Their time and input is precious.
  • Tell them they are exactly the kind of people your product or service was created to help.
  • Ask them to be brutally honest.
  • Listen. Let them tell you how they feel, if they think using it will benefit them and whether it is something they would like to own or use.
  • Use that information and language to frame the product when you go to market.

Adapt – When you’re out there selling, pay close attention to what’s working and what isn’t. In the real world, people don’t always behave the way they do in focus groups. Tweak. Adjust. Reframe. Keep listening.

Advocate – In my role as the head of marketing for financial services firms, advocating for the customer was among my most important contributions.

I spent a lot of time scouring the media and doing research to understand customer trends and concerns. I had the visibility and credibility to influence anything affecting the customer (which is just about everything). Someone in your company should have the mandate to challenge assumptions about what customers value.

Should you take pride in the thousands of details and all the expertise that go into the products and services you create? Absolutely.

But if you always remember that value is in the eye of the customer, you can escape the Curse of Knowledge.

Have you ever bought a product or service that worked better or worse than you expected? Can you think of some companies who do a great job making their products or services come to life in your imagination?


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Fun at Work? Abso-freakin’-lutely!


Fun at Work imageImagine this. You’re on your way to work and you’re actually, honestly excited about it.

Wait…what? Really?

Abso-freakin’-lutely! Know why?

  • You’re working with people you trust and who trust you.
  • You’re busting your butt, and you know everyone else is, too.
  • Your boss has given you a crystal clear vision for where you’re headed.
  • She has coached you when you needed redirecting and
  • Encouraged you when you fell short.
  • You have what you need to do your job.
  • You feel safe enough to make mistakes and
  • Your company takes the time to acknowledge accomplishments all along the way.

It’s fun. Really.

Google is famous for operating a fun workplace. Sure, they spend big on employee perks, but these perks are not the source of the fun. What the perks do, whether it’s free meals, childcare, or concierge services, is free up employees to do the things that Google values most: imagine, collaborate, innovate, create and produce.

Google demonstrates its respect for its employees every day by allowing them to customize their workplace experiences so they can be at the very top of their games.

Fun at work has gotten a lot of attention, and it’s often easy for business leaders to think that fun is something you buy (an espresso machine!) or add on (lap pool?). It’s not. Fun is the outcome of policies and behavior that honor the people we employ, and unties the binds that keep them from being the rock stars they want to be!

Although it would be totally cool, you don’t need to add a water slide and margarita machines to promote fun at your company. There are small steps you can take right now to foster an environment where people aspire to great things and have the fearlessness to try.waterslide

If you make an honest, good faith effort, you can make work more fun for yourself and for your employees. And more fun means higher productivity, better retention, easier recruiting. Do I really need to sell you on this?

The best kind of fun is found in activities that take us out of ourselves and away from our fears and preoccupations. When you’re having fun, you’re in the moment. Focused. Even faced with tight deadlines, high productivity requirements and relentless resource constraints, it’s possible to have fun. In fact, it’s imperative.

Once, while working at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse in Bigfork, Montana, a few of my friends (actors and technicians from the Playhouse) and I walked up the old dirt road along the Swan River just outside of town. It was a blisteringly hot day in late summer and, because we worked at night and had nothing to do except play (those were the days), we were looking for an adventure that might also cool us off.

Now, of course we could have just walked the short ten minutes to Flathead Lake, but where’s the thrill in that? One of the more daring nut jobs from the group remembered a series of pools in the river that were deep enough to jump into, even from the cliffs (CLIFFS!) that towered well above the river. You just had to be sure you jumped far enough.

Well, it turned out that was pretty damn far.

I stood at the edge of the cliff looking down at the glacier-fed water rushing into a series of four or five pools that looked pretty deep. Probably deep enough, but to get from where I stood to where the first pool was required not only a considerable vertical drop, but a horizontal span that looked to me at the time to be about the length of a football field.

Probably further.Football field

Definitely further.

I couldn’t help but get a little shaky about it. OK, really shaky.

I’m not gonna lie – that first jump was terrifying. It was also thrilling. It was an amazing, fun day. I have had similarly exhilarating, fun experiences at work and I can tell you that I (and the people around me) were all better off for it. So was our employer.

I’m fascinated by the neuroscience of fun. Our brains work better when we are having fun. We’re more creative and energetic, even harder working.

It’s puzzling to me that companies don’t try harder to tap the potential in a happier workforce, but if more fun sounds like it’s worth a shot, then consider the following…

Fun is not the object. People and relationships are.

When I jumped like a madman into the Swan River, I was with people I trusted. The sense of competition between us was healthy and constructive because it nudged us all to push the borders of our comfort zones. Most importantly, we all knew that if we failed, although we may have experienced extreme bodily harm, we were still loved. Coincidentally, the same dynamic applied to our work together at the Playhouse.

  • We knew our objective (overcoming the distance between the cliff and the swimming hole),
  • We had the resources we needed to achieve it (knew where to go and had the physical ability to make the leap), and
  • We allowed every one to approach the challenge in his or her own way (with a little good-natured ribbing).
  • We were in it together. The day was better, more fun, more memorable and more stimulating because it was shared.

It’s not about buying ice cream between floggings.

Creating an environment that promotes fun doesn’t mean you have to break the bank throwing parties or providing perks. And it sure as hell doesn’t (in fact, shouldn’t) have to wait for the annual Christmas party.

Leadership can promote fun at any time by having a little fun themselves. Herb Kelleher, the legendary founder and one time CEO of Southwest Airlines, was known to greet passengers in an Elvis costume.

Herb created a culture that celebrated individuality, even eccentricity, while building the most successful airline in the history of the industry. It’s important to note that Herb was genuinely interested in, and respectful of, his employees and his fun was never at someone else’s expense. They felt safe to have fun and be crazy while they were working hard and recreating the experience of flying.

Fun should be part of fulfilling your company’s mission.

Achievement is fun. Remember how jazzed you felt when you aced that Chemistry test or finished your first 10-K? How about the time when your team at work successfully launched a new product or website? Setting goals and then achieving them is exhilarating. This is especially true when the experience is shared with others. This is where you get the real whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its parts mojo going!

Companies that are clear about their goals and excited about empowering people to get creative about accomplishing them can experience surprisingly great things. By encouraging people to contribute, regardless of their tenure or position, celebrating achievement all along the way, and taking the time to relax and appreciate the precious resource your people are, any place can be a fun place to work.

Do you have fun at work? Which companies impress you as offering a fun experience for their employees and customers? What can you do to make work more fun for yourself and the people around you?

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We Do These Things Not Because They Are Easy But Because They Are Hard

Moon image

In a speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962, President John F Kennedy roused support for America’s mission to the moon with a stirring speech that celebrated the determination of American innovators and adventurers to “Climb the Highest Mountain”. The speech cited a litany of accomplishments made possible by a shining vision and unrelenting hard work. I encourage you to read it, but have excerpted a small portion here.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things (accomplishments and aspirations), not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

I don’t recall ever having heard this speech or the quote before, then recently I heard it twice: Once, while visiting the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon and again in the introduction to a new Brad Paisley song, “American Flag on the Moon”.

The sentiment “We do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard” resonates with me.

It acknowledges that real growth is the outcome of vision and struggle.

This means choosing a path that others don’t

Figuring out how to do things you have never done

Committing to doing them as well as they can possibly be done.

The quote also recognizes that high achievement is a challenge compelled by a desire to win.

It’s the same in business. How often are conversations about marketing and business strategy dominated by “What does (competitor’s name here) do?” or “That’s the way we have always done it.”

I agree that these are legitimate observations and material to the discussion, but they are easy to ask, easy to answer and they don’t go far enough.

Questions should challenge leadership to envision a product, service and/or client experience that changes everything, a vision that makes us better than we have ever been and superior to our competition. This kind of vision inspires employees. And, properly executed, it delights and attracts customers.

Here’s the thing…executing a new vision, even if it’s not radical, is hard. Really hard.

It means that old ways of doing things may have to go. It takes commitment, resources and determination. People need to be trained and leadership needs to evangelize.

This ain’t business as usual. But the pursuit of this vision is powerful because, as President Kennedy’s speech assures us, “that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”.

What companies do you believe consistently raise the bar for themselves and their competition? How have you or your company raised the bar for yourselves?


The Will To Be Great

As a marketer and communicator, I have long been a student and admirer of great companies. What these companies do to innovate, create great new products, redefine their categories or consistently rank as top performers fascinates me.

Of course, there are companies in all industries that have established their own disciplines for excellence. The management strategies employed by Ritz Carlton, for example, are different from those at Apple, but one characteristic stands out among all companies that achieve (or aspire to achieve) greatness: The will to be great.

Girls can do anything!

Willfulness. I hadn’t thought much about this apparently obvious attribute until some colleagues from D.A. Davidson and I visited the headquarters of Robert W Baird & Co. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin a few years ago. Baird and Davidson have similar business models and we were interested in learning more about some of their best practices and processes. Mostly, we were eager to understand their ongoing success earning a spot on Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

Baird’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Leslie Dixon, led the discussion. Beginning with documented research detailing the measurable economic benefits of being a great employer, Ms. Dixon went on to say that attracting and retaining great people was, ultimately, a function of will. “Great companies”, she said, “must have the will to adopt and execute policies and practices that make them great. It’s hard work that demands resolve and determination.”

Most leaders think of their companies as good, if not great, places to work. But knowing you operate a great place to work takes the discussion to an entirely different level. It requires a determined, ongoing effort to engage and support people. It is deliberate. It is constant. And at Baird, it’s still working. In 2014, they ranked no. 9 on the list for the eleventh consecutive year. You can read more about it here.

You may be asking what Baird’s will to be a great place to work has to do with marketing. I would argue that, regardless of the company, a great place to work has a huge advantage from a marketing perspective. An engaged, happy workforce delivers better customer service. It acts as an army of brand ambassadors. Employees given appropriate resources and support are good neighbors and citizens, earning good will in their communities.

The importance of will applies to marketing strategies as well. Steve Jobs’ will to bring Apple’s revolutionary technology and design to market is legendary. Ritz Carlton’s will to engage with its associates and guests is prevalent in every aspect of the enterprise.

These are just a few companies among many with the will to do something important and do it brilliantly well. Can you or your company say the same? Ask yourself these three questions…

  1. How does my company distinguish itself, operationally or in the marketplace? (Superior service? Better performance? Lower prices?)
  2. Are the qualities described in these claims supported by policies and practices designed specifically to uphold them?
  3. Do you conduct regular testing or research to measure the validity and value of the qualities you espouse?

If your answers to these questions are yes, then you can safely say that you possess the will to be great. If you answered no to any one of them, can you be sure you are delivering what you say you are?