21st Century Marketing – The Good Guys Win

GenerosityAs a matter of principle, I have always subscribed to the notion that nice guys don’t have to finish last. In fact, they can and should finish first. This ideal has been challenged repeatedly throughout my career, but now that I’m running my own business I’ve come to the conclusion that helping the good guys be more successful is the best possible application of my time and talent.

Slate Magazine published an article titled “Nice Guys Finish First” by Seth Stevenson featuring the work of organizational psychologist and Wharton Professor, Adam Grant. Mr. Grant has published a book, “Give and Take” in which he identifies Givers (the good guys), Takers (aggressively self-serving) and Matchers (most of us).

Mr. Grant has observed that the Givers are abundantly generous with no expectation of reciprocity. They give expecting nothing in return. He also notes that the givers who protect their interests – who don’t allow themselves to be exploited – are likely to excel in organizations. In my experience (and ideal world) they also excel in business.

Givers, and the organizations they lead, are perfectly suited to modern marketing strategies. Because they focus on making the people around them better and more successful, their companies are more customer-focused. Because they place their customers’ interests above their own, Givers are better positioned to conduct the honest dialog that is so crucial to branding and marketing today.

David Packard once said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the Marketing Department”. I don’t think Mr. Packard was dissing the marketing department. He just understood that marketing is too big for any single person or group. Everyone has to be engaged in the important work of creating value and building a brand.

Marketing today is a very big picture indeed. And what gets me really excited about the work I’m doing these days is this: the people I’m working with think so too! They are good guys who care about their products and services. They care about their employees. And they REALLY care about their customers. That, to me, is what business and marketing is all about.

I have my own observations about the “good guys” I have worked with and watched over the years. These are women and men, founders, executives and managers who are never happier than when everyone around them is challenged and successful.

  • Good guys are never, ever done. Whether I’m working with the founder of a startup or an executive at a well-established firm, these leaders always want to do more and be better. They recognize that earning their customers trust and loyalty is an ongoing imperative, and they take that challenge very, very seriously.improvement image
  • Good guys want their people and companies to be the best. Most of the good guy leaders I have worked with have studied their competition enough to know if they have some catching up to do. But for the most part, they’re motivated by an unquenchable desire for self and organizational improvement.
  • Good guys stay sharp. These men and women are almost all voracious readers, and a lot of what they read is directly or indirectly related to their work. They read about marketing and leadership. They study evolving management practices. They’re fascinated by emerging technology and all the possibilities it promises for improved service and efficiency.Books images

I’m working with a founder now, Jack, who exemplifies these traits. Jack left the security of a full time gig at a major company about thirty years ago because he saw a void in the marketplace. At the time, the segment of the population he serves had a very poor menu of options. As a result, people were often forced to choose financial solutions that were inadequate to their circumstances.

Jack rushed to fill that void. Through self-directed education and hard work, he became a nationally recognized authority in a discipline he essentially created. He founded an organization for the practice and served as its first president.

Benefiting the industry at large, and by extension thousands of people he could never hope to serve, Jack also contributed to the development of an accredited professional training curriculum and designation. To top it all off, he lobbied at the state and federal level and served as an expert court witness to protect the interests of the people his business was built to serve.

This was all in addition to his day job.Teamwork

I spoke with some of Jack’s colleagues to get a broader perspective on the business. To each of these accomplished individuals, Jack was and is the embodiment of the firm’s culture, character and brand. He is the company’s most enthusiastic evangelist and its single largest revenue producer. Significantly, their high regard for Jack is only exceeded by Jack’s regard for them.

Mostly, Jack is passionate (an overused term I hesitate to use, but appropriate here) about the people he serves – a community whose lives his company is in a position to change in profound ways. Jack is a business “good guy”.

It’s a privilege (and a blast!) for me to work with Jack and business leaders like him. I benefit from their wisdom. Their zeal inspires and excites me. Together, we approach marketing from a big picture perspective, working to build brands and grow businesses around true stories that really matter. That’s a world where, I believe, good guys are destined to finish first.

 

Have you ever worked for or with good guys? How did their presence affect you and your organization? Do you agree with my premise – that modern marketing is well suited to supporting the success of good guys? Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you. If you like this, or any of my articles I hope you’ll share them. Thanks as always for reading ~ Michael 

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It’s a Wonderful Life – Three Business Lessons from George Bailey

It's a wonderful life titleFrank Capra’s 1946 movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a holiday staple and moving testimony to the power of a single person and idea. It is an unapologetically sentimental look at the life of an ordinary man doing extraordinary things.

Because of its sentimentality and its annual presence in the crowded schedule of holiday entertainments, it’s easy to overlook some practical, important lessons the movie has to teach us about business and life.

So, as you pack away all of the trappings of the holiday season for another year, let’s take another quick look at George Bailey to see how we can learn from his experiences to be more successful, more relevant, more peaceful and, frankly, happier… how we too can have a Wonderful Life, in 2015 and beyond.

George's purpose

Serve something bigger than yourself

For George, the Building and Loan established by his father and his uncle was often a burden. As a career, it fell far short of George’s grand personal ambitions. Nevertheless, when repeatedly forced by circumstance to remain at the helm of the struggling business, George was tirelessly dedicated to the Building and Loan’s mission: helping people no one else would lend to own their own homes.

Defending the memory of his deceased father and the Building and Loan to his competitor and nemesis, bank owner Mr. Potter, George understood that the people he and his business served did “most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”

You and your company have a mission too, and like the Building and Loan your mission is bigger and more important than might be immediately apparent. Know your mission. Talk about it. Internalize it throughout your organization. A mission asks the question “Why is the world a better place with you in it?” It is a powerful and empowering force.

George and staff

Respect your team and your customers

In the movie, George repeatedly places the interests of his customers and colleagues ahead of his own. Leaving the church on his wedding day with his bride Mary, George sees that there is something wrong at the bank and the Building and Loan. He’s tempted to continue on, but jumps out of the car and hurries to the business to try to calm his anxious depositors. Finally, he resorts to spending his own money to take care of his customers and keep the business afloat.

At a pivotal point in the movie, a substantial sum is misplaced by George’s absent minded uncle Billy, placing George and the Building and Loan at grave risk. And although he’s furious with Billy, George does not accuse him when seeking assistance from the villainous Mr. Potter. George protects his uncle, as he would any employee by publicly taking responsibility for the misplaced funds.

Your customers’ experiences with your company are a direct reflection of the way you and your company treat your associates. Treat your people with respect, give them the information and resources they need, and encourage them to go above and beyond for your customers. Amazing things will happen.

 

George Bailey in despair

Lean on your supporters

When he experiences a potentially devastating personal crisis, it never occurs to George that the good work he has done throughout his life has earned him the admiration of friends, family and customers.

Feeling absolutely alone in his despair, George contemplates ending his life when a guardian angel, Clarence, helps George understand the significance of his life by showing him a world where he never existed. It is, of course, a much darker world. Through this experience, George is allowed to see how impactful his life has been.

His belief in himself and his contributions restored, George returns home to his family not knowing what the future will hold. Shortly after arriving, George is overwhelmed by the love and support of his community of friends and customers, and grateful to Clarence (who has finally earned his wings).

George's community

In the conduct of our businesses and our careers, we all have the opportunity to make the world a better place for the people we work with and the people we serve. When problems, opportunities or challenges arise, look to your colleagues and customers for advice and direction. Don’t wait ’til you’re in crisis. Open up lines of communication. Ask for feedback. Demonstrate your eagerness to include your people in the conversation that drives your growth.

How does your company express its mission? What policies and practices exist to help people feel engaged and important? What systems do you have in place to listen to and respond to the concerns of employees and customers? Can you think of a time when you benefited from the support of an associate or customer just because of the quality of your relationship?

As we begin 2015, I wish you and yours a best-ever new year. I’m grateful for your interest in these posts and for your comments. As always, if you liked this or any other of my articles, I hope you’ll share them. I’m shooting for a much larger audience by the time 2016 rolls around.

Want More Out of Life and Work? Practice This Miraculous Technique!

gratitude7Sometimes, the best marketing is no marketing at all. Sometimes heartfelt gestures of gratitude engender respect and a deeper connection by reminding ourselves, our customers and our neighbors that we are all in this together.

Be sure to check out the videos at the bottom of this article.

In a couple of weeks here in the United States, we’ll observe Thanksgiving Day – a day first observed in 1789 according to a proclamation by our first president, George Washington. The Thanksgiving holiday we continue to celebrate was established by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and made into law by Congress in 1941.

Thanksgiving, the act of giving thanks – of being grateful – is a profound act. In an article titled “Why Gratitude Is Good”, Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, argues that gratitude has two key components.

“First,” he writes, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”

In the second part of gratitude, he explains, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

For me as an individual, gratitude means enthusiastically acknowledging my Creator as the author of all good things. It also means contemplating the gifts I have received and the lessons I have learned from people who have shaped my life and colored my journey.

As a marketing professional, I believe gratitude is best expressed in the ways we think about, interact with, and serve our customers. If gratitude is, as Mr. Emmons suggests, an “acknowledgement that other people…gave us many gifts to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.” Then companies who embrace gratitude have a powerful incentive to “pay it forward”, to deliver superior products and experiences.

If a company honestly and deliberately internalizes the conviction that the goodness it has experienced is the result of gifts from others – its customers, its employees, shareholders and partners – how do you suppose it would affect the way the company communicates with and serves those same people?

Personally and professionally, an Attitude of Gratitude is for me the best way to approach business and the business of life. As we approach this season of thanks, my best wish for you is gratefulness that lasts all year long.

…………………………………………………………………………..

Speaking of the season of thanks…today, I was exposed for the first time to what has become a holiday tradition in Great Britain, television commercials (adverts there) by UK retailers John Lewis and Sainsbury’s.

For 2014, these companies have created very different stories, but each evokes shared experiences of love and brotherliness that reflect the good will of the season. For me at least, these wonderfully well-produced commercials remind me of all I have to be thankful for. Enjoy.

Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas advert

John Lewis’ 2014 Christmas advert

Do you do business with a company that really seems to be thankful for your business? How does that affect your experience? How does your company express gratitude? 

Look Up: The Virtues of the Unexpected

Digital media. It’s everywhere. Between our searches on Google, videos on YouTube, friends and connections on Facebook and LinkedIn, the people we follow on Twitter, the images and ideas we collect on Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest, Vine and others, we can connect 24/7 using our computers, tablets and smartphones.

This is too much gif

The thing is, this breathtaking volume of messages and images has distracted us from the real thing, the powerful experience of connecting with people in person, in the moment.

Look up. If you’re reading this in a public space, I’d bet that many (if not most) of the people surrounding you are looking at a device right now, just like you. Even people seated at tables with others may be gazing at their iPhone instead of engaging with one another.

Please don’t mistake me for a curmudgeon. These new tools of expression are a blessing to mankind. They empower us to connect with friends and colleagues who before social media would have fallen away. Social media have also demonstrated an unparalleled ability to organize and inspire people to effect important social change.

For most of my career as a marketer and communicator, I have worked in the financial services industry. It’s a sophisticated industry that spends a lot on marketing, but because it is vigorously regulated most firms – mine included – were slow to fully embrace digital, especially social media, as a marketing and communications platform with legitimate business building implications.

To be honest, we were missing the boat. To this day, many financial firms are still missing the boat.

Early on, I knew I needed to be able to develop effective integrated digital strategies that included social media, so when social really started taking off, I dedicated as much time as I could to getting educated in the discipline.

I have learned a lot, especially that I can never be done learning. Digital is as diverse and changeable as any media I have ever encountered. This blog is part of my effort to better understand and one day master digital marketing. It is a burgeoning field, with experts abounding in search engine optimization, search engine marketing, content development, inbound marketing, copywriting, blogging, lead generation, lead nurturing, you get it…

A captive audience!

A captive audience!

By now, you know that you are going to be marketed to anywhere and everywhere you go. There are ads on the shopping cart at the grocery store, in public restrooms, in your email box, and even at the movies (that one still ticks me off). So most of us have gotten accustomed to seeing the ads that line up next to, or run before, what we really want to see when we are online.

The technology that powers Google, Facebook and others gives these platforms deep insights into your interests. By tracking what you search for, who and what you like and what you buy, they can deliver marketing messages that are specifically designed for people just like you. As a result, you’re more likely to take action (buy something or at least take a closer look) than a more random message would prompt.

The other side of this transaction is digital’s inherent measurability. When you click, digital marketers know. There is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between marketing and response that other media cannot match.

So what’s wrong with all this? Nothing really. At the same time that we’re connecting with friends, colleagues and customers and being entertained, we’re also getting marketing messages that are way better suited to our lifestyles. We’re being pitched stuff we actually care about, and the companies that are doing the pitching have a better idea for how their marketing investments are paying off. Better in fact than at any time in history. Everything’s jiggy, right?

Well, yes. Mostly.

A couple of years ago, I was driving through a remote part of rural Montana, and the only radio station I could find was an AM station broadcasting from a tiny town at least a hundred miles away. For an hour or so, I listened to songs from artists that (I swear) included Frank Sinatra, AC-DC, George Jones, The Supremes, and more current stuff from the likes of Maroon Five and Tim McGraw. I heard music I would never have heard, and most of it was good. Damn good.

That experience got me thinking about the virtues of the unexpected. When I confine myself to a certain type of music, or food, or art, or to communities defined by a common (often narrow) set of interests, I miss some great things. By allowing myself to be immersed in a digital world designed to deliver exactly what I like today, I risk missing some great, unexpected thing that I might be passionate about tomorrow.

One of the things I love about our neighborhood is the openness of our neighbors. Unlike other areas in the city, where people avoid eye contact and keep their ear buds and earphones tightly in place, we and our neighbors readily engage. On evening walks, my wife and I have had wonderful, surprising conversations with people I now count as friends, people I would ordinarily never meet. They bring experiences and outlooks utterly unlike my own and I’m richer for it.

So here’s what I am doing so I don’t get stuck in a digital or psychic rut. If any of these tactics resonate with you, I hope you’ll join along or find a method that does the trick for you.

  • I am reducing my time on social media. The quality of the discourse there doesn’t come close to direct communications between people. Whenever I can, I will spend time face to face, followed by phone, then email, then social.
  • I’m keeping my head up and my eyes and mind open – signaling to the world that I am interested in knowing the people around be better. When I can help them, I want to.
  • I’m going to work harder to experience new things. By connecting with and listening to the people, new and old, whose paths cross mine, I intend to go out of my way to expand my experience and appreciation.

As a marketing professional, I love digital media. As a fellow human being, I hope my audience is adventurous enough to know that some of the best things out there have never even crossed their minds.

What role does social media play in your life? How has it made your life better? How have Internet search engines like Google affected your behavior as a consumer? Are the changes all for the better?

Let Your Customers Love You!

Nobodyvintage_heart_1 does business with a company because they expect to be disappointed. How ever you managed to win a customer’s business – your reputation, a product or promotion, a referral or just plain old convenience – that customer is predisposed to like your company. Get that first interaction right, and they might even end up loving you.

What a gift! Before you even try to answer a question, take an order, propose a solution or solve a problem, the customer is on your side. In the beginning, you have a big leg up.

Way (way, way) back when I was making a meager living as an actor, I remember reading a book by a celebrated acting coach. He suggested coping with stage fright by reminding yourself that the audience is already rooting for you. If the actors do their jobs well, the guests who expected to be entertained will be delighted. They’ll forget how expensive the tickets were and they’ll tell all their friends.

The same dynamic applies to you and your business whether you’re selling groceries, offering financial advice, or replacing windshields. Your customers want and expect to like you. They want to be happy with their experience. All you have to do is not let them down. Surprise them by doing more than that, by really knocking their socks off, and you’ll be on your way to building a base of raving fans.

There’s more good news. Knockout early impressions create a bank of goodwill you can draw on when problems arise. The restaurant business provides a perfect example. If the food and service is excellent the first time you visit, you’ll be much more likely to forgive a disappointing experience down the road.

If, on the other hand, you get bad food or your waiter decides to take a vacation to the Maldives before taking your order, and again before bringing you the check, there’s a very real chance you will never go back. Not only that, you’ll be telling all your friends and family about what a crummy joint it was. And, as we all know, negative reviews travel much faster and farther than positive ones, especially today with Urban Spoon, Yelp and social media all at our fingertips.

Customers give you a wonderful opportunity to win their trust and admiration. Your job as a business owner, manager or employee is not to blow it. Here are three principles you and your company can adopt to make your customers’ experiences exceptional.

Surprise Your Customers

The veterinary hospital where we take our dog, Alice, has a great staff of friendly professionals who go out of their way to greet and connect with their customers and their pets. The building is immaculate. The staff treats us as if Alice was the smartest most lovable and attractive dog they have ever seen. Their prices are competitive with the market, often better.

Surprised? We were blown away on our first visit and that experience has redefined the category in our minds. We enthusiastically recommend the place and, for as long as they continue to operate this way (and a little while after) we’ll be going back.

Some businesses attract customers and close sales by making extravagant claims about performance, product, price or service. Don’t be that company. If there is more than a random chance that your customer’s experience will fall short of your hyperbole, the consequences can be serious. Either modify your operations or your messaging. “Under Promise and Over Deliver” will always be good advice. Do it whenever you can.

Be Open and Honest

Years ago, I worked for a company that experienced a cyber attack. From the moment we became aware of the event, our chief objective was to share as much information as we could with all of the customers who were affected and to do all possible to shield them from risk.

In the span of a few days, we built, staffed and trained an emergency call center so we could deal directly and personally with concerned customers. Naturally, customers weren’t happy about the news, but our transparency and aggressive response to the problem soothed their concerns. What could have been very damaging to the business ended up being an opportunity for us to demonstrate the company’s commitment to, and genuine concern for, its clients.

In business, there will always be times when you’ll need to deliver information to customers that they don’t want to hear. Resist the urge to “spin” the message. Sure, you expose yourself to criticism, but the long-term benefits more than compensate for the pain.

Watch Your Front Line

It doesn’t matter what business you’re in. Competition is intense. The only way you can grow and keep business is to make all your customer interactions a success.

What distinguishes customer-centric companies like Zappo’s and Nordstrom is a disciplined, deliberate focus on every customer touch point in the organization. It doesn’t matter how skillful and attentive a sales person is if the people in charge of the delivery, installation or implementation are indifferent or – heaven forbid – hostile.

You need to pay attention to how phones are answered, how walk-ins are greeted, how (and if) you’re interacting in social media. No matter where and when a customer touches your company, you need a plan to make every interaction a success.

Where’s the love?

Seize the opportunity your customers grant you the first time they do business and you’ll have a lot to look forward to. Add a few extra flourishes, quick and earnest problem solving, focus on the details and you can be among the few whose customers proudly proclaim “I love (your name here)! They’re the best!”

What companies do you love? Are there companies in typically unlovable industries that have surprised you by going above and beyond? What changes can your company make right now to upgrade your customers’ experience?

Thanks as always for reading. Your comments and suggestions are welcome. If you enjoyed this or any of my articles, I hope you will share them. See you next week!

 

 

 

 

 

Passion, Schmassion. You Do What You Hafta Do

I’m sure you have heard the Confucian quote

“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Every day, you and I are subject to a fairly constant stream of stories about how visionary entrepreneurs and fearless professionals have found success by pursuing their passions and encouraging us to do the same.

Bull.

I often think about the experiences of the people who touch my life over the course of an ordinary day. You know, the young man who poured my coffee at Stumptown Coffee Roasters yesterday morning, the three guys who for the last four days have been laboring in the hot sun to install a new patio at my neighbor’s house, the woman at the pet food store, our financial advisor, the guys who collect our garbage and recycling, my dermatologist. Are these folks passionate about their work? Probably not.

And if they are, do they approach their jobs with the kind of unbridled enthusiasm they bring to the things they really are passionate about? Their families? Their faith? Their hobbies? Well… maybe.

But that’s OK. Really. The simple fact is that the vast majority of us do work we have to do so we can live the lives we want to live. The trick is finding the passion in whatever you’re doing.

If your experiences have been anything like mine, at various times in your career you have struggled, compromised, gotten frustrated, been under-used, overworked and overlooked, and every now and then…knocked it out of the park.

At the same time, you’ve met amazing, wonderful, smart, funny and generous people. Been mentored in countless ways how to – and how not to – manage a project or staff and run a business. You’ve taken on challenges that made you work harder than you thought you could and gotten smarter and more resilient because of it. Pretty great, amazing stuff.

The Papa Murphy’s take-n-bake pizza place in our neighborhood is very, very busy. On weekend evenings, they might have four or five people squeezed in at the assembly line with two or three people doing prep work in the back. Others are scurrying to answer the phones, serve walk-ins and work the drive through. It’s nuts.pizza_hd_picture_6_167274

 

In the midst of this bedlam, the entire staff remains unflappably friendly and courteous. They answer the phones quickly and warmly. They greet each walk-in with an honest, welcoming smile. And they are all equipped to help customers with helpful tips and advice. It’s obvious that everyone respects her coworker and, believe it or not, actually enjoys the work, even if they’re not passionate about it. We love it, and we keep going back (thus this article in a “marketing” blog).

My wife and I are so impressed by the place and its team, we have actually had conversations about it. Many of our experiences at fine restaurants and resorts – as well as with other merchants and professional service providers – don’t measure up to the standard this small take-n-bake pizza branch sets.

The good work, happy people and great customer experiences at my neighborhood pizza place have a few lessons for both employers and employees who are interested in finding something to be passionate about.

Have a Big, Bold vision

People aren’t motivated by the work, they’re motivated by the product of the work.

Management has to have a vision and must share it. It’s not about pizza. It’s about taking a load off a busy mom or dad so they can spend more time with their kids. It’s about fun and nourishment. It’s about believing in the product and having respect for the customers who choose it. It’s also about respect for your coworkers and vendors. Make the vision as big and bold as it deserves to be. Then share it, share it, share it. Make it your mantra. Believe it and your people will believe it.

Be Proud

If you’re doing a job, it’s a job that needs doing.

The people you serve, whether they’re aware of you or not, are depending on you. Your coworkers are also depending on you, not only to carry your share of the load, but to be a responsible member of the workplace community. Be friendly and supportive. Take pride in your contribution and always look for ways to improve. I learned lessons dumping garbage at Sears in Spokane, Washington when I was in high school that serve me to this very day.

Find Ways to Celebrate

You don’t need me to tell you that work can be a grind, but it’s amazing how even the smallest celebration can pull people out of the stress of their workday.

  • Catch people doing something right and thank them personally and publicly.
  • Be clear about goals and get loud when they’re reached, really loud when they’re exceeded.
  • When you finish a particularly challenging day or project, thank the whole team. Be specific about the standout contributions from you star players. They deserve it, and it helps your bench players set their aspirations.

If you are among the fortunate few who loves your work so much it doesn’t even seem like work, I am thrilled for you. I would love for you to share your experience in comments. For those of us who find the passion where we can, I’d love to know more about how you bring your best every day, even when it really feels like work. Either way, you’re getting it done.

Crazy Socks and The Importance of Channeling your “Kidself”

crazy socks

 

I know you’re going to think this is a little weird, but for years I wore crazy socks along with my conventional corporate attire. There I was with my button-up dress shirt, tie and jacket, and just peeking out from beneath the cuff of my conservative dress slacks, there it was. Craziness.

Even when my company went business-casual, my socks were freaky enough to stand out. Bright neon green. Palm trees. Frogs. Architecture. Some were color-blind argyles. Others had decidedly eccentric holiday themes. I was stylin’!

I am otherwise a pretty decent dresser, (“snappy” according to one coworker. I’m still trying to convince myself that he knew what he was talking about but he probably just had really low standards. He was a straight guy after all). In any case, you get the picture. When it comes to dressing, I’d say I get a pretty solid B. But what do I know.

You may be wondering why I would want to wear crazy socks in a corporate environment. To place my career in jeopardy? To call attention to myself? Not at all. People never even noticed them.

I take that back. Our General Counsel often did, even going so far as to point them out to visiting guests. I think he was jealous. Lawyers.

For me, these goofy socks were a reminder that an important part of me, my “kidself”, needed to be present and active in my grown up world.

Because I work in marketing and communications, listening to my kidself is especially important to me.

In my kidself mindset, I find I am more imaginative. I have a bigger vision for what’s possible and I can see more easily how great ideas from other companies and industries can be made to work in my own.

But what if you are in information technology, accounting or ops? Can paying attention to your kidself help you too? I think so. Here’s why.

Openness. When you were a kid, nothing was off the table. I used to love listening to my daughters play when they were really little. They would have assumed some imaginative persona when one of them would say to the other “How ’bout?” followed by some outlandish circumstance. “How ‘bout you’re being chased by a great white shark in a jeep and your leg is in a cast?” or “How ‘bout Louise (our dog) is the king and you have to steal his brownies to save the princess?” There was never a “how ‘bout” that the other didn’t immediately take on. Anything and everything was worth trying.

In your kidself frame of mind, you are less likely to dismiss new ideas simply because they are unfamiliar or don’t conform to the dreaded way-you-have-always-done-it.

Creative Problem Solving. I’m painfully aware that in the grown up world problems and the ways we solve or don’t solve them can have grave consequences. That’s why so many of us dread them. On the other hand your kidself sees a problem not as a threat or an inconvenience, but as a puzzle. Watch a kid play with Legos sometime and you’ll see what I mean.  children-playing-at-home-thumb20446258

By listening to your kidself, you can approach the problem inventively, get help when you need it, and consider out of the box solutions you would never come up with when you’re stressed, afraid or bored.

Better Community. This might be the most important point of all.

When I say community, I mean the way we encourage and enable one another at work, or don’t. This is a big deal. The people we work with, their attitudes and willingness to give and take represent a huge part of our professional experiences. Tapping into your kidself can make your work better and make it better for the people around you.

Or not.

grumpy gif

I had a colleague who was a wonderfully capable technologist. He was a valuable asset and team member. He was also an Eeyore.

If you were a fan of Winnie the Pooh books or movies, you are probably familiar with Eeyore. He was the dour, relentlessly pessimistic donkey who saw only the negative side of things. Eeyore dreaded the future. To him, life is nothing more than a disaster waiting to happen.

We have all worked with or known an Eeyore. They are fun suckers. Worse, they make an already very demanding workplace experience harder. In my experience, Eeyores are often bureaucratic and inflexible. Too preoccupied with process and protocol to innovate or engage.

Well, I encountered this same colleague at a company social event and found him completely transformed! When we met, his usually downcast eyes met mine with a warm smile. He was animated and communicative. I even learned he was a musician and active in the arts. Who was this guy and what had he done with Eeyore?

Away from the pressures at work, he was channeling his kidself, an enthusiastic, attentive and positive person I actually enjoyed being with. Imagine how much more pleasant workdays might have been for him and the people around him if he had allowed even a glimmer of that positive, creative energy to emerge at work.

I don’t want you to think I am being critical. Working in information technology and systems admin (for example) sucks most the time. Day after day you’re working with impatient people, jumping from fire to fire. The risks and responsibilities are enormous and the hours are long. Hell, sometimes it just feels easier just put your head down. But if only for your own sake, you shouldn’t.

Think about your kidself. Pay attention to it. Be intentional about making her or him a part of your life and your work. And if you need help remembering your intention, put on some crazy socks. You’ll be glad you did.

How do you make your kidself a part of your work life? Have you had colleagues who you felt were in touch with their kidself? How did it affect their performance and the company?

 

If you enjoyed this article, I hope you will share it with friends and colleagues. More and more people are reading so I’m encouraged that at least a few of you are getting something valuable here. Your comments are a great way to extend the conversation. I encourage you to get involved and look forward to hearing from you – Michael

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?