Archives for November 2013

Optimism and Waking Up: Lessons from a 6 Year Old

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“Outlooks” matter in life, and Optimism is one of those force multipliers.  How do you know if you’re leaning to the glass always being half full, with a brighter future than present?

A simple tool from the Old School to gauge your Outlook:  The wake-up test.

How easy is it for you to drag yourself out of bed?  Hard?  Painless?  Or, “can’t wait!”

My son is generally not an early riser, at least by my standards, waking up at 7 am.

Dominic:  Hustle

On Thanksgiving and Christmas however, all bets are off.  He’ll be up at 5 am, the LATEST.  He won’t just wake up 2 hours early, he JUMPS into my bed and announces the day, says “HAPPY THANKSGIVING” in a mild roar and can barely contain his excitement.

The reasons are pretty simple for him springing out of bed

  • Mom’s “Special french toast,” made a few times a year, certainly not your everyday meal.
  • Salvatore the Elf on the Shelf comes out, signifying no just Christmas around the corner, but daily little surprises where he will show up in odd places.  The excitement of Dominic running around the house looking for Salvatore is hysterical, and fun to watch.
  • Traditions that grow and evolve each year.  Memories that build on memories.  “Daddy, remember last year……”  And his own I-phone that captures and journals the pictures and memories, New School style.

I can acknowledge that life gets more complicated as you grow older.  Bills pile up, relationships get more complex, and various stages of life are arguably more stressful than the life of a 6 year old.

Call me naive, but I will argue the “life gets complicated” argument with age.  Isn’t life all relative?

  • Is the stress of a mortgage payment or difficult boss, worse than the anxiety of getting on a bus where the town bully causes mayhem?

  • Is the difficult boss harder than a teacher that may pay little attention to a struggling student?

  • Are “toxic” co-workers that are forever negative more morale killing than the kids that exclude others from the playground game of tag?

Yes, exaggerated examples to illustrate a point.

The 6 year old finds a way to bounce out of bed, when there is something to look forward too.  Adults do the same, when they focus on similar reasons to look forward to something.

EVERYONE has something to look forward too, to let OPTIMISM take over.

  • A chance for a productive day and great outcomes.  A great sales call you’ve been preparing for.  A presentation to your team.

  • An opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s life.  Thanking and complementing your local barista.  Asking someone some great questions that allow you to learn something and form a bond.

  • Making that new connection that could open a door to a job if you’re out of work, or an up-lifting conversation which adds a bounce in your step.

  • Another day to move closer to your potential, to get better at your craft, and help others….

In other words, every day is an opportunity to bounce out of bed.  Find the excitement and optimism outside of annual events.  The excitement of the holidays are there for the taking.  EVERYDAY.

Everyday the Sun Comes Up - Optimism

Image credit: http://stratoartblog.wordpress.com/tag/blue-sky/

 

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Old School Career Advice for Your 20’s: 2 Great Ted Talks

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Your 20’s matter!

It shapes the foundation for your entire career.  While careers are certainly a marathon (not a sprint), the choices you make in your 20’s will be instrumental in your overall life.  How you conquer challenges (or not), develop relationships and establish your reputation will carry with you long after your 20’s are over.

One of the best learning tools of our time is YouTube, and Ted Talks are one of my favorites.  Absorbing world class presentations are a great way to stay sharp, a core principle of staying on top of your game.

Why 30 is not the new 20-Meg Jay

  • There are 50mm “20 something’s” in USA…..a significant portion of population.

  • 80% of life’s defining moments take place by age 35.  It’s a critical phase of adulthood.

  • The best time to work on your marriage is before you have one.  Choose wisely.

  • Too many 30 & 40 somethings look back on their 20’s and say:  “What was I thinking?”  A lost decade…

  • Do something that’s an investment in your life: “Identity Capital”

  • New things come from weak ties:  Friends of Friends of Friends, not the inner circle.

 

While you’ll fail to have a good career- Larry Smith

  • You’re too lazy, & make excuses for not looking for your passion.  You’re also unlucky

  • You’re not a genius, you’re just competent.  You’re also not weird, and you’re nice

  • Have 20 interests, not 1, and something may emerge as a passion

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The Danger of Over-Valuing Star Players: Even One’s With Great Nicknames

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Maria Bartiromo, dubbed the “Money Honey” announced her departure from CNBC to head over to rival Fox Business News.  By all accounts, Bartiromo’s 20 years with CNBC were great for both the network AND her career and she’s generally regarded as a superstar, attracting many A-listers and strong ratings.

Maria Bartiromo

Image credit: CnnMoney.com

The departure appears amicable (only those on the inside really know however).  From the NY Times on 11/18:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/19/business/media/maria-bartiromo-to-leave-cnbc-for-fox-business.html?_r=0

“After 20 years of groundbreaking work at CNBC, Maria Bartiromo will be leaving the company as her contract expires on November 24th,” the network said in a statement. “Her contributions to CNBC are too numerous to list but we thank her for all of her hard work over the years and wish her the best.” 

“The signing is a coup of sorts for Fox Business, which has struggled to establish a profile. Last week, Fox Business averaged fewer than 10,000 viewers in the group that attracts advertisers, those between the ages of 25 and 54. CNBC had more than three times as many with 31,000.”

The questions that are always asked when a superstar leaves are predictable:

  • How much will this hurt?

  • Can we afford to let them go, especially to a rival?

  • What are the players that remain saying?  Will they rally and be able to fill their shoes?

  • Is this a warning sign for top executives to pay attention too, a wake-up call?

  • From the rivals that scored the great talent:  Great steal, now we are on our way!

All of these are predictable when a Star leaves your team.  And in my experience, all over-dramatized.

YES, a star like Bartiromo deserves all the accolades and good fortune she has earned.  However, a business is made up of more than just stars.  And some businesses that dominate, stars happen to be the norm.

CNBC happens to be #1.  If the figures for daily viewers are accurate and CNBC is pulling in 31k to Fox Business News 10k, AND if these are these are 2 leading business networks (Bloomberg networks may be in the mix too), that’s a pretty hefty Market Share.  Probably 50+% share of this audience (would be 75% with just these 2).  Market Share Matters, POWER is the most important missing “P” of the marketing mix.

CNBC- First in Business World Wide

Here’s the deal.  You don’t get to be #1, by a massive margin with 1 star player.  You get to this spot in business with a TEAM of stars, and a TEAM of support players.

I happen to be a CNBC Junkie.  I am at my desk at 5:30 CST after working out (Start Early!) and consider Squawk Box mandatory viewing for anyone in business.  The talent on this show and others is off the chart.  Any one of them could step into the role and they wouldn’t miss a beat.  But they would not need too, their “Bench” is deep and they appear frequently on many shows.  This assignment wouldn’t faze them; in fact it would energize them.

Loosing key stars is a fact of business life.  It should always be taken seriously. And it’s also a sign that you are developing grade A talent.  Just make sure you have a hungry and talented bench ready to step up.

Bartiromo’s final bid farewell was all class, and she went down a thank you list a mile long.  

All stars by definition, recognize that it takes more than just enormous talent, it takes a TEAM, or in her case, a CAST to make the best production possible.  

http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000220869&play=1

Bartiromo will go on to achieve great things.  As for CNBC, it will take more than just a star or 2 to knock them off their leadership perch.

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“You Gotta Be Willing to Take the Hits!”

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Is there anything more motivating than an intense speech from your father?

From Hollywood, I can think of none better than Rocky:  “Sunshine & Rainbows.”  Short videos are always great conversation starters…

My Take-Away

  • Attitude is everything in life.  It helps you conquer the brutal realities of life, so choose optimism.

  • Accept responsibility, ALWAYS.  Always employ the Mirror Test, Don’t run from accountability.  

  • Don’t get frustrated, get busy and get after it.  In short, HUSTLE.

And worth noting…….tell your kids you’ll always love them…..regardless of circumstances.

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The Power of Expectations

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What drives one’s outlook on the glass being half full or half empty?  Impressed or disappointed?

One dominant factor?  Expectations

Leadership Expectations
Think back to any life experience and I would venture to guess that it was not the OUTCOME that dictated your outlook, is was the expectations you had prior to the situation, and if they met that bar, exceeded it, or fell short.

Here’s some examples

Sky High Expectations: Disappointed Outlook

  • The dining experience at the hot new restaurant where your hopes were sky high.  Your meal was very good, but you left with a so so feeling
  • The new hire brought in to make a big impact, with a long and storied resume.  You work with them for a month and wonder if they are the real deal or all hype.  People wonder if there’s more Charisma than substance?

Low or Moderate Expectations, Sky High Outlook

  • A stop at the local retail store for a gift, and you want to get in and get out.  You encounter a friendly store associate that was not only helpful, but made you want to stay and linger, chat and explore.  And return…
  • The new team member at work, put in a position with no real “logical” experience that said they would thrive.  You end up being amazed at their ability to adapt, learn and assimilate into the team.
  • A move to a new city after you’ve lived in one place your entire life.  You realized there is life outside of the home town…

A couple of applications for this principle….

Marketing

  • Delighting customers is job #1.  You do that by delivering, then exceeding customer expectations.  Shaping the right customer expectation is critical, than work hard to over-deliver.  Be careful about over-hyping your product and service if you can’t deliver the promise.

Business Leadership

  • Leaders set a vision, then provide a road map for what the future looks like.  There is plenty of wisdom in the BHAG:  Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals to stir the troops.  People like to achieve great things……..however:

If expectations are a key driver in one’s mood, doesn’t it make sense to simply LOWER expectations to make it easier to exceed them, and thus improve the team’s Outlook?

Leadership Danger Zone

There is certainly some logic here:  Deliberately lowering expectations increase the likely hood that the team can have a more positive experience.

Here’s my rule of thumb.  DO IT.  But only in your world OUTSIDE of business.

The business world has too many people reaching for great heights.  It is cut throat and too competitive to be intentionally lowering the bar.

There is great logic in UPOD:  Under Promise, Over deliver.  It works great to establish trust and build a reputation.

Personally, I believe there is too much up-side tied to setting very high expectations for yourself and your business.  Falling short of high expectations is usually a better business result than exceeding a very low bar.  Just manage your “outlook” on the tail end and fight being too hard on yourself if you fall short.  And don’t do it with your customers, they are paying your bills.

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A Brand Immersion Experience Gone Wrong

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All sorts of marketing learning can occur on vacation.  Between the dinners out, exploring new neighborhoods, and maybe more than anything……entertainment for the family (primarily kids), can provide a lab for real life execution of business.

Sometimes it’s easier to evaluate other businesses when you are away from the daily grind.

Our city vacation in Atlanta started with Legoland Discovery Center.  My 6 year old son lives for Lego’s.  I loved them too growing up, much more than video games, and being a business geek I was anxious to see them pull this off.

  • Housed in an up-scale mall in the Buckhead section of Atlanta.  It didn’t hit me at first, but this was a “sign” for that was a bit odd.
  • Admission (purchased on line) was $11 per person, $15 live.  A tad on the pricey side I thought, but I guess it’s all relative to other “entertainment” options like a zoo or museum.
  • Plenty of decorations, a small section of carnival rides, play mats, a jungle gym and a small movie theatre.  And an over-priced rip me off snack bar, of course!
Legoland Atlanta

Image Credit: Buckhead.patch.com

Take-away?

  • First, the kids loved it.  I guess we can end it there, since that what matters right?  They spent 2 hours playing on the jungle gyms, running around, shooting the Lego cars up and down the ramps.
  • Parent’s, not so much.  Our take-away was that it’s a step up from the play center you’ll find at Mcdonald’s, just better branding and some neat displays.  And the obligatory “gift shop” at the end.  Certainly not the first spend of $’s we’ve experienced that under-delivered, and it won’t be the last.

Lesson?

There are very few brands that can pull off a standalone “experience” aside from their core product.  This is what Lego is trying to do, create a stand-alone entertainment option, generate some $’s (assume they are aspiring to at least break even) and create another point of interaction with their brand.

This could be one of the most ambitious feats in business.  There is a reason very few try it.  Because it is HARD, it’s not the core business and it raises expectations significantly, and that creates a danger zone.

I couldn’t help but think what the CEO or CMO of Lego would think if they wandered through Legoland Atlanta the day I did.  I am sure they would be asking themselves some basic questions….driven from the choices that were made before they built the center….

  • Does this represent our brand well?

  • Are we “wowing” are customers and providing excellent value?

  • Are we LISTENING to what customers are saying about their experience?  (social media has given plenty of real feedback!)

  • Are we better off with it or without it?

Brands need to be careful thinking they are bigger than what they really are.  Very few brands can approach a risky venture with high expectations with a “passive” approach.  It requires, in short, a massive dose of HUSTLE.

On the same trip, we experienced the exact opposite of Legoland, an up-lifting, unforgettable experience I’m happy to recomend and return too: World-of-Coca-Cola.

http://www.worldofcoca-cola.com/

Is it fair to compare Legoland with Coca Cola’s version?  On the surface, it’s fair to assume Coca-Cola has the financial resources to outdo almost any brand.  But that’s just on the surface……I believe the outcome would have been the same if both brands were given an identical budget and told to “go build it.”

Have you ever been to a local town bakery that has a line a block long, while your big box national supermarket bakery doesn’t seem to have been shopped for 2 days?  Who has more financial backing?  $’s are sometime a lazy way to attribute success.

Creating experiences that BUILD a brand, not erode it, first begins with choices.  Than the real work begins.

 

 

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A Leader’s Warning Sign: “Just Wait For The Dust To Settle”

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It happens all the time in business and in life.  Something _______ (fill in your negative adjective) happens with any of your key stakeholders and you develop the best way to handle the situation.  You encounter what I call The Dust Storm.

The Dust Storm is a dangerous cross-roads moment all leaders and business people encounter.

Waiting for Dust to Settle

Image Credit: vogeltalksrving.com

You know you’re in a dust storm when you hear a version of the following from your confidants:

  • “Let’s wait for the dust to settle, then we’ll deal with it….”
  • “This too shall pass…..”
  • “It will blow over; just give it time…..”

The gist of the advice in the middle of a dust storm (i.e. “the problem”) is that TIME will take care of the situation, and what’s murky now will soon clear when the winds carry away the dust.  OR if time will not carry away the dust, it buys you time to let it settle while you develop the plan to deal with the aftermath.

Every situation is unique and requires clear thinking.  Acting IMPULSIVELY rarely produces the best outcome.  It’s amazing what 48 hours of separation (a weekend) can do away from the dust storm to improve your clarity.   Beyond 48 hours, there is a chance you are playing with fire and taking the first course of action that is present in all problem situations: “DO NOTHING.”

Here’s the dangerous part:

When you consciously choose to WAIT to solve a problem, it rarely solves itself.  In fact, it often gets worse with the passing of time.  The more time put between the event/problem and the solution has an inverse relationship to a successful outcome.  The longer you wait, the more surprised people are when you confront the situation, and low and behold you just created another (unintended) Dust Storm: “Why are we having this conversation NOW?”

Below are some basic functional examples that are common.  Ask yourself if the Dust Storm approach is better, or one that is more intentional.  Yes, a loaded, rhetorical example to illustrate the point.

  • Management:  The “rough” performance review that needs to be given, below expectation performance.  Wait until the review to give your first, thorough accounting of the negative review, vs frequent candid sessions throughout the year.
  • Sales/Business Development:  A major customer sales call that turned a negative corner, for whatever reason.  Hope you can manage through it and repair the damage vs. bringing it forward to management real time.
  • Team Relationships:  Interpersonal conflicts among key team members.  Bury the conflict, don’t address it directly or talk behind the person’s back to try and cope.
  • Finance/Accounting:  A potential “Lapse” in ethical standards or something observed that does not feel right.  Aggressive expense reports (padding), letting customer returns go through without raising the hand and communicating to someone other than sales, product costing that does not seem accurate….
  • Executive Leadership:  When company cherished “values” are brought into question by those OUTSIDE of the executive team.  “Do they really mean it?”

If doing nothing produces the best outcome, then Dust Storm need not be feared.  If it is NOT the best course of action, you are fighting against Time, life’s great equalizer.

Ask yourself If putting MORE time in between the major problem and confronting it will help or hurt your chances for a successful outcome.  Then, make an intentional, deliberate choice.

Intentional choices keep you off your heels.

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Playing Loose in The First Grade: The Teacher As Leader

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dominic shark

My son Dom had a note sent home with him from school this week…….one of those “mis-behaving” notes from the teacher that requires a parent’s signature.  Dominic was nervous to talk about this with his pops, fearing it would get him in trouble.  All kids go through the “fear” of parental discipline.

That never came from me, having had the crowning achievement in high school of senior class clown!  I did however give him a talk about the Golden Rule.  I decided that the best approach was to thank her, show a little humor and appreciation.

Dominic Note Home From School

I posted the note on Facebook, and to my surprise over 25 people chimed in with their comments, many supportive, and some reminiscent of the old days, a general good time had by all.  One however stood out to me that I’ve been thinking about, one of my life’s great mentors, my sister…
I thought you would have ripped the teach a new one – you surprised me.  Don’t u remember what is like to be a Kid Mr. class clown? Guess aunt Deggie is gonna have to fly down and stand up for her godson.  Anyway the teacher probably figures Dom wrote the letter as no adult could still possibly write like a 7 year old. Luv ya Bro!

Pretty much the opposite sentiment from how I responded.  And I can certainly relate to my sister’s thoughts, especially the comment on her bro’s penmanship.

Great mentors don’t always tell you what you want to hear, they tell you what you NEED to hear.

2 schools of thought.  Old School vs. New School in play once again.  

  1. Let a kid be a kid, don’t take life so seriously.
  2. Support the teacher.  She’s the authority figure and in charge.

Sometimes it’s hard to ride the fence in parenting and in life.

I do have to wonder however, some thoughts on the TOUGH role of teaching.  For fun & Business Learning, substitute the word Teacher for “Leader” &  Kid for “Colleague”

  • What if a Kid’s “dominant personality style” is embraced, rather than counseled to conform by the Teacher?  Talkers are talkers.  Shy kids are shy kids.  How can a Teacher embrace the kids strengths and have them be MORE of who they naturally are?
  • To borrow a word from New School education models, what if the Teacher “flipped” the agenda away from structure and TO the Kids?  Kids that want to be chatty?  Fine, engage them on leading the discussion at hand vs. putting them in a box.

Facilitate, orchestrate, and engage with each kid’s style vs. lecture an agenda.  Sound a bit harder than going through a classic lesson plan?  You bet.  Riskier, with the odds of the “lesson” not being met with a free wielding discussion that could be mistaken for chaos? Yes!  Like in the real world, higher risk usually correlates to higher returns.

In the real world, people are drastically different.  Learning styles vary drastically, along with their personalities, desires and overall “hot buttons.”  Assembly line approaches, where everyone does the same task had its place in the era when Henry Ford famously proclaimed:  “You can have any color you’d like, as long as it’s black.”

We have gone from mass production to mass customization in less than a half century.  Hopefully our education system starts to realize this.

One thing I CAN say with confidence:  This will not be Dominic’s last note home, nor will it be my last response.  The next one will go beyond the Golden Rule.  I may introduce the story of the Model T.  In other words, I may go beyond Old School “authority rules” and take a page from my sister’s New School model….

Everyone needs coaching in life.  Not just colleagues, but leaders too.  And yes, sometimes even teachers.    

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Innovation Rocket Fuel: Moms On A Mission

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What is the catalyst behind big positive change?  Something improved & break-through in business or the community?  I can think of a few catalysts on the surface that drive change

  • The Mad Scientist – It’s hard to keep creative thinking down for long….
  • Survival – Expenses rising faster than revenues, creating a brutal math problem with negative consequences if change does not happen fast
  • A societal need – Someone recognizes an unmet need and looks to fill it:  Hunger, housing, general welfare
  • Personal incentives (put in place by someone else):  “I help drive it, I benefit from it.”
  • Failure.  It’s been well documented that innovation comes from failure, learning from experiments that did not deliver, but new learning was captured and then applied in a different way.

I’ll introduce a more simple, yet powerful force that combines many of the above elements.

Moms.

Correction:  Moms working together on a common cause, one that is deeply personal.

I’m not talking about the Mom spending power or the Mom’s influence on purchase decisions, which has been well documented.

What I AM talking about is…

The raw impact that can be made when 2+ Moms get together and decide something needs to be done.  And THEY are the ones that need to make it happen.  Because if THEY don’t do it, it will not happen.  And if it does not happen….the consequences are greater than the blood, sweat and tears that result from trying.  So with that, I introduce one of the most powerful catalysts I have witnessed for creating change:

Moms on a Mission

Melissa Todd & Kristin Barek are the spotlighted Moms on a Mission.  They are the driving forces behind bringing Best Buddies to Memphis, a cause that is certainly near and dear to my heart for its focus on social inclusion for those with intellectual disabilities.

Best Buddies Memphis

Melissa Todd & Kristin Barek, Moms on A Mission

In less than 2 years I’ve seen this organization go from idea, to start-up, to setting big goals to expand the service.  This 2 minute video details out their journey well.

http://www.myfoxmemphis.com/story/20752052/moms-on-a-mission-for-best-buddies

Best Buddies international is a powerhouse in the charity world with unbelievable impact.  But there impact was not felt in Memphis without a local chapter. [Continue Reading…]

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An Inspirational Story In Humanity: This Is My Brother

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So much can be learned from other people and their differences.

“Differences” are no greater than those with some type of disability, whether they are physical or intellectual.  But these differences are really only on the surface, where many people struggle to get beyond.

People who know someone with a disability often refer to it as a blessing.  What they will share with you is the joys in discovering their extraordinary ABILITIES and qualities that the rest of us should strive for daily.

I can certainly relate to the sentiments shared in this video by Elizabeth Higgins Clark.  She shares the wisdom and love she has received from her brother, David, who has Fragile X Syndrome. 

If ever there is a video you hope to go viral, this is one of them.  If you agree, please spread the word.    

For the full transcript of this speech:

http://mariashriver.com/blog/2013/11/this-is-my-brother-elizabeth-higgins-clark/

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