Monday, November 23, 2009

If You’re Not Making Mistakes, How Are You Learning?

The stakes in the high tech sector are high. When you screw up on the Internet your mistakes hang around and haunt you forever.

The Regional SVP of Facebook Mike Haines spoke last Wednesday in Orlando to members of the American Marketing Association of Central Florida (AMA-CFL). Did you know that 1 million people a day join Facebook? But I’m not going to talk about Facebook…Mike said something that resonated with me and it was a great term that I have not heard in a while…and it was like hearing from an old friend. He said “Fail Forward”.

People are afraid of failure. I say bring it on! Failure is often seen as a step backward but failing teaches us to be resilient. We have all heard the expression “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” Usually when you hear that it is at a point when you don’t want to be reminded. Right? Later you know you are made of steel. When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb he tried over 2,000 times to get it to work. He said, “I never failed once. I invented the light bulb. It just happened to be a 2000-step process!” It’s about attitude. It’s about learning being a process.

And, when you work in the online space every day you know it is moving at the speed of light and you have to innovate or you WILL die online. The way that we differentiate our business is by innovating and creating new ideas, products, and ways of engaging people in real time. Mike at Facebook said that they make mistakes…their members even set up groups to tell them about their mistakes. How many of you have joined a Facebook group to protest Facebook? However, they are glad to hear it so they can learn. The thing about failure and being willing to fail is it will make you stop and think. You think about the process and you “Fail Forward.” It’s more like one step back…two steps forward when you are in the virtual world.

Remember, the sooner we find out this idea doesn’t work; the sooner we can get onto one that might. And if this idea does work, hallelujah, we may have a new light bulb on our hands.

BTW, as Mario Andretti said, “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Taking Care of People, Taking Care of Business, Taking Care of the Planet

I recently attended a conference for female entrepreneurs, and I talked about the conference offered by Count Me In (CMI) in my last blog. Office Depot volunteered their corporate Headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida for the 3 day conference. I didn’t think much about Office Depot before this…other than it’s a place to pick up printing paper and ink when I run out. The title of the blog “Taking Care of People, Taking Care of Business, Taking Care of the Planet” is their motto. So big deal; lots of corporations have mottos, but do they all live by them? Well here is what I didn’t know: Office Depot does. Read on because I’m going to talk about a really cool program and some FREE (ya FREE) business tools (and lots of them) that are available to you!

Taking Care of People:

Office Depot has donated over $20 million dollars to help people, but I am not going to talk about all of that…I am going to talk about one program that I thought was unique and insightful. The National Backpack Program, now in its seventh year, places new backpacks into the hands of children who might not otherwise have the proper tools for success. Office Depot has donated nearly 1.8 million backpacks full of school suppliers since 2001.

Why is this so important?

Let me use a real-life example. As many of you already know, I’m from Montana, (and you are probably sick of hearing about fishing), and during a recent trip home I had the opportunity to visit with a woman whose experience with this program was more personal. Ok, so she’s my Mom, and she is the current Executive Director of The Boys and Girls Clubs Endowment Foundation in Billings, Montana and the former Development Director of Family Service, Inc., a nonprofit organization there, and she said the community involvement of Office Depot made a difference in the lives of many in a Montana community of just over 100,000.

She told me the people, who use the services of Family Service, are truly the most at-risk and vulnerable in their community. Any extra expense puts these families in crisis. Back to school expenses were one of the financial stressors of the low to very low income families served. I was told each year the wonderful associates at the local Office Depot came forward to make certain hundreds of young people had backpacks and the needed school supplies to fill them. She would watch as the families, parents and children, stood in line for hours waiting their turn to receive these generous gifts. She could see the excitement of the kids and the relief of their parents, who now had one less thing to worry about! Without the involvement of Office Depot, many children would have returned to school without the tools their peers took for granted. She assured me that having the right tools set the tone for the entire school year and that the first couple of days at school are critical.

Taking Care of Business:
Did you know that there are a lot of FREE business resources on the Office Depot’s website? It makes sense – business people are their customers! They offered WebCafe’ (their version of webinars before webinars were even heard of!) WebCafe’ was launched in 2002 as part of the Company's online Business Resource Center. These free web-based seminars provide small business owners and other professionals with the opportunity to learn from industry experts on a variety of topics ranging from marketing and sales tools to finance and technology trends.

The workshops, which are held on select Tuesdays at 4PM EST, consist of a 40-minute presentation followed by an interactive question-and-answer session.
They have what seems like hundreds of business form templates (from sample equipment leases to IRS tax forms), and provide a small business handbook that tells you everything you need to know to run your business from equity to employees. It’s amazing and I wish I had known about it a few years ago!

I know about them now because they stand behind women in business and are committed to identifying the growing global needs of today's businesswoman. I am posting a picture of me with Monica Luechtefeld, who is the EVP of E-Commerce and Direct Marketing for Office Depot. Since I own a business ( that utilizes the online space – I feel qualified enough to say that her team is doing a great job and I learned a few things from them while I was there! Monica is also tasked by the organization to leverage her relationships with women’s business organizations to expand their marketing efforts towards business owners. I can’t speak for all of the women who attended the conference last month, but I can say thank you to Monica and her organization for supporting us. And, Monica-I think you are awesome! This is why I had to have my picture taken with her (photo attached to blog)! Hey…we all need role models.

Taking Care of the Planet:
Office Depot thinks green. They try and buy and supply green products. Okay, there are a few companies on that band wagon. But Office Depot seems to be not only talking the talk but walking the walk. Their environmental strategy can be summed up in a simple statement; they are committed to increasingly buy green, be green and sell green. It’s pretty simple.

Yep, seems like good business to me.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Need a Job? I Have One.

I spent the last couple of days in Boca Raton, Florida with some of the most amazing people that I have ever met. I am not one to go to a conference for women or women business owners but I needed to get inspired. I know the economy is bad. We hear it ever day and that sucks. But, you know what, our business is growing and we are grateful. A trip to South Florida was fine with me and I got more inspiration than I expected.

Count Me In is an organization whose mission is to promote economic independence and the growth of women owned businesses. You know how I found out about them? I was going through a stack of catalogs deciding which ones to read and which ones to recycle and I saw the Costco Connection. Now I love Costco. I just do. I saw Theresa Alfaro Daytner, owner of Daytner Construction Group on the cover. I read the article and you can read it too . I signed up for the 3 day event. What the heck.

I had the privilege of meeting Nell Merlino, the creator of Take our Daughters to Work Day, author of “Stepping Out of Line”, and the leader of The Count me In Women’s organization (That's her in the picture with me)

I want to focus on one of the many outstanding things that Nell said. And, I am taking liberty in paraphrasing. The biggest issue in the United States today is the unemployment rate. What is wrong with the country is that people are not working. Fear is stalling the growth.

Even the female business owners in this conference were hesitant to hire employees, which means as the leaders of our companies we are taking on more and more work. I looked this up and it’s real according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics released September 23, 2009: The national unemployment rate was 9.7 percent in August 2009, seasonally ad-justed, up from 9.4 per-cent the prior month and up from 6.2 percent a year earlier. Yep, that means 1 out of ten people in the United States is out of work.

She went on to talk about this being a very tough year. And, I agree, and it does seem like everyone is waiting for someone to fix this or the government will throw enough of our money at it to make an impact. Then she said something amazing. I wrote it down. “What if we could?” And, I thought what if we could what, Nell? Are you actually suggesting that the 100 female small business owners in this room fix the economy? Really.

She told a story about women and war. No, not about a cultural icon, Rosie the Riveter – we have all heard it; she talked about how during World War I, even though very few women worked outside the home they took the place of the men who had gone off to war and worked in factories and on the farms. Teddy Roosevelt even provided uniforms with pants (very few women wore pants back then) and women ended the food riots by harvesting the crops and planting Victory Gardens. Women in the U.S. and Britain brought in the crops (see Farmettes and Land Girls).

Women get it done when the chips are down.

Back to “What if we could?” She said, “What if everyone in this room hired one person when they got back to their business?” It’s about personal responsibility and accountability and the belief that the show goes on (according to me) and again, I think she is right. That would put 100 people to work and the family, community, and economic impact of that does matter. There is a ripple effect. However, is it significant? Well, there are millions of female and minority owned businesses and if everyone hired one person we would put millions of people back to work. Yes, it is significant.

· 10.5 million businesses are owned by women in the United States*
· Women-owned businesses employ approximately 27 million people
· Women own 48% of all businesses in the United States
· Women business owners contribute more than $3.6 trillion to the marketplace each year
· Women account for more than 70% of consumer spending
· 55% of women provide half or more of their household's income, yet 48 million women -- that is 80% of all women in the workforce -- earn less than $25,000 a year**

*”Stepping out of Line” and **Facts from "The National Foundation for Women Business Owners"

What if every corporation or business regardless of the gender of the owner (who cares!) added one employee this month or next month? Why wait for our government to get it right? Why not do what we do and get down to business. Every woman that I met this past week was a woman that meant business. And, many of these women run multi-million dollar businesses.

One of my favorite comments of the day was from one of the few men in attendance. An executive from Office Depot (a sponsor of Count Me In and the wonderful folks at Office Depot are the topic of my next Blog) had supported, attended and listened to the comments from women for 3 days. And, he said, “If the women in this room are representative of other businesses run by women then I feel comfortable in saying we’re good. The U.S. is good.” Everyone applauded because he is right. We are good. We are an amazing country with people that have a can-do attitude. Turn off CNN (Constant Negative News) before you spiral into a depression and think about what you can do to chip in.

I am proud that Mindspot Inc, is a state of Florida certified Female/Minority owned business enterprise and I am proud to belong to Count Me In, an outstanding organization that helps women build their lives and their business.

So in closing, what are you going to do? I would love to hear your feedback. Post a comment because I know you have something to say. I have a job opening. Email us for the job description at

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How Many Friends Are Too Many Friends?

Ever wonder how many users are on Facebook? The answer, today, is more than 250 million active users. Facebook started on a college campus (Harvard) in February 2004 and then expanded to other colleges and then high schools. Today two-thirds of FB members are outside of college and the fastest growing demographic is 35+.

The average FB user has 120 friends. How many do you have? Today I have 274 tomorrow maybe more…maybe less. Here’s the thing: Corporate management theory, the military and psychology gurus support the optimum group size of 150.

It is often referred to as “The Dunbar Number” because Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist researched this and determined the optimum number to maintain social interaction was 150. His research was based on personal communication involving speech. So what does that mean for a social networking site like Facebook? Does it mean that we as humans using technology –that we are expanding our “tribe”? Is it an evolutionary shift?

Or will what typically happens in corporate, organizations, and government evolve here as well? Will we have more bureaucracy and social stratification to ultimately keep the core group smaller and more manageable? Can we keep up with a growing number of friends?

I recently had a FB request from someone who wanted to know where he knew me from? Well he doesn’t know me. However, he sent me the friend request a while back because I am a friend of his friend’s sister. That was when he was new to Facebook and adding friends. Now, he wants to decrease the size of his group to people that he knew or that he communicated with on a regular basis. I made the cut, but likely only because I responded that I enjoy his posts. I am reasonably sure if you didn’t respond to his post that you were “de-friended”.

There is an application where you can designate your “Top 25 friends” or you can be someone’s “Top Girl” to let people know who your top people are at any point in time. Or maybe it’s to let you know. Based on user demand FB has added Friend Privacy in March of 2008.

Dunbar’s research also supports that in small groups there are diminishing returns on Group Satisfaction after the group exceeds 150. For smaller groups this occurs between 12 and 15 people. Ah ha that is were the optimum focus group size of 8-12 comes from! Yes, it’s based on research!

So getting back to the point; are we evolving with the help of technology or are we providing diluted communication to some group members once they exceed the personal limits of our time and attention? My guess is that the effective number is still 150. It takes a long time for evolution to happen even with the Internet!
However, we will keep adding friends and the average number will grow exponentially like Facebook itself has grown. A number of segments within our groups will evolve with varying degrees of communication and interest and we will pay more attention to some friends than others. And, if we want to keep in touch with everyone and let them know we think about them…we write a blog.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

There’s a Personal Cost to Living Virtually

I make my living using cyber tools to better understand the “real” world. So, I’m the last person to bash the Internet or the emerging social media. But because I spend so much time online I invest a significant amount of time and energy examining what is done well online and what isn’t.

There’s an old axiom that everything comes around again. You know, the old becomes new. Well, one of society’s lamentations has been that as TV became more widely available families stopped sitting down around the table for dinner together. TV trays were invented and people brought their food into the living room and all sat around watching the Boob Tube and no longer talked with one another.

As time has progressed people bought more than one TV per household and that availability of multiple screens coupled with 100s of channels led to even greater isolation as people weren’t even sitting in proximity to each other. Everyone grabs their own micro waved dinner or snack and retreats to their own space to watch whatever interests them and they no longer have to be inconvenienced by their siblings’, parent’s or children’s request to change the channel. And now, the internet provides us with even more thinly sliced niches to explore.

Social media has arisen in response to people’s sense of isolation. The irony is social media tools far from bringing us together are further isolating us. Personal websites, Facebook pages and Twitter are very useful for disseminating information to large groups of people. We post once and “broadcast” to our audience. But the question becomes just because you can do something, should you?

I’m sure sometime in your life you’ve heard the expression, “Think before you speak.” The same holds true with the Internet. Think before you post. Ask yourself why are you posting? Would you say what you’re writing to someone’s face? To paraphrase Dr. Phil, “How’s that work for you?”

A lot of people feel that without social media they wouldn’t be able to stay in touch with their friends because their too busy. I’d like to encourage you to rethink this. We all know long-distance relationships are difficult to sustain. Social media creates artificial distance between us and our friends. It can also sustain the illusion that a true relationship actually exists. Text messaging, email, Twitter and Facebook are all substitutes for being there in the flesh.

At least when you call, people can hear your voice. You can hear the inflections, hesitations and enthusiasm that are so very difficult to convey in writing. However, it does require more time and commitment to the relationship than a broadcast message.

I have no intention of stopping using social media, nor am I suggesting that you do. I just want you to stop and ask yourself what price you’re paying for the efficiency and “convenience”.

Sometimes nurturing your relationship with one or two friends over a cup of coffee can provide more nourishment for your soul and theirs than broadcasting spontaneous, empty, cotton candy updates to all of your friends.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fishing Is Good for the Soul

In 1970, Alvin Toffler wrote a book called, Future Shock. He wrote of how things were changing so fast that people were becoming overwhelmed. Well here we are pretty close to 40 years later and the rate of change as increased exponentially. If people were in shock in 1970, the poor souls must be comatose today.

That’s where fishing comes in. Fishing allows you time to think. It’s my perception that people who don’t fish, think that fishing is about catching. I can understand this. After all pretty much everything we do in life is about the results. Now, don’t let me fool ya. I enjoy catching fish, as much as the next person. But the secret to fishing is engaging in the process. Being in the moment, focusing on the doing, allowing yourself to relax and be present to what’s happening here and now.

Running a business is a lot like fishing...I volunteer to send proposals out all the time or provide my solution to a problem. That’s like casting my lure. I don’t always get the business right away but I do hear from a lot of clients 6 or 12 months down the road on the same or a similar project. I sometimes have to cast that fly numerous times before a fish bites. Sometimes I have to change flies. But sooner or later my efforts draw the attention of the fish. Now, I’m not calling my clients and prospects fish, but all living creatures respond to incentives. (The science of economics is founded on the principal that people respond to incentives.) People remember when you do a little extra or provide a solution and they often call you back even if it is for another project.

One of my clients credits a fishing trip as the pivotal time in his business. It gave him time to think and determine the course of action for his business. He is incredibly successful. I will be working with him next week. I might be able to get a quote or the story from him as a follow up for a later blog.

I’m going to be headed back to Florida soon. I know I’m going to reap the benefits of my time fishing here in Montana. It’s given me time to reflect on my team, my customers and how our business brings value to everyone we encounter.

Let me encourage you to go fishing. Take a break and use the time to reflect. Aristotle said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” My experience has been that when I take the time to step back and reflect, I tend to be more productive moving forward.

How about you? Have you been fishing lately?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Being the Boss

How do leaders assure their teams deliver as promised?

In a previous blog, I wrote of how the people who work with me understand what's to be done, what success looks like and how I'm going to evaluate the work. I also wrote that I trust my judgement as to their ability to do the work I assign and their commitment to fulfill the assignments they accept.

Every now and then things don't always work out the way envisioned and it's necessary to correct course. Sometimes the situation has changed. At these times, it's purely a matter of communicating the changes as quickly as possible amongst ourselves, so we can get back on course.

When a change in circumstances is not the resaon for an individual's performance not living up to my expectation the cause always falls into one or both of two areas: attitude or ability.

Let's start with ability; if I and/or the person to whom I've assigned a task have misjudged that person's ability to do the work in the time allotted within the resources provided then my job as the leader aka the boss is to uncover and correct the diconnect. This can be a very awkward situation. Because both the person who's falling short thought they could do the job and so did I; both of our judgements have been proven wrong. Depending on how you handle the situation, fellings can be hurt and then the folks involved are not thinking about how to fix the situation, but how to avoid blame.

So, creating an environment where the person reporting to me feels respected is crucial. The moment the person I'm "correcting" feels disrespected, the relationship and the trust that holds it together begins to erode. Relationships, particularly between people who are charged with thinking for a living, are held together by trust.

Hence, when I identify the issue as one where the person was not capable of doing the work; we both have to accept responsibility and do our best to either provide the person with the knowledge they need or reaasign the work. No harm, no foul; we thought we could, we made a mistake; let's fix the situation and move on.

That's enough for today.

I'll write about handling the situation when it's one of attitude at another time.

How do you handle situations like this?

Please, write me, I'm always open to hearing how other leaders help their people succeed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Leadership – It’s what they do when you’re not there.

I continue to be amazed at the people who are prisoners of their business. I'm not talking about the employees; I'm talking about the owners. I hear these people lament, "You can't get good help, anymore." I hear them say, "People don't want to work." This isn't my experience.

I'm from Montana, but my business is located in Florida. The people who work for me are located all over the country and because I rarely see them face to face I decided to take a little road trip home. Once I arrived I found the fly fishing just too alluring and I decided to stay a while longer than I originally planned. Several people have asked me, "How can you afford to stay away from your business for this long?"

Well, it's pretty simple. I have good "help" and the folks who work for me want to work. To go a step further I'm going to brag a little about them and say if the fishing continues to be as good as it's been I might stay a little longer, because we haven't missed a beat.

How do we do it?

Number one, we're all clear on our individual and collective goals. We all know what spells success for the team and we're all clear on our individual roles in achieving that success.

Number two, everyone's clear on how I evaluate performance.

That's it, it's rather simple. I trust the people with whom I work. I think I've done a good job assessing their capabilities and they're sufficiently committed to what we do, that if I were to ask them to do something they didn't feel they could deliver, they would tell me.

So, when people lament about their employees and say they can't get away; I wonder where the problem lies. Do their people not understand what success looks like? Do they not understand their role(s)? Have the owners hired people who don't possess the capacity for the tasks they've been assigned?

I'm sure there are other factors which contribute to our success, but the fundamentals of being able to trust people are (a) they know what's expected, (b) it's within their capacity, (c) they understand how I'm going to judge their performance and (d) they've accepted my trust and (e) have committed themselves to accomplishing the goal.

With that in place, I'm quite comfortable goin' fishin'.

I hope you can join me soon; cause man oh man have they been bitin'.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This Is Not the Future Our Parents Foretold

Don Reynolds, the noted economist and futurist, states that 70% of the jobs that are going to be created over the course of the next decade will be in firms employing less than 50 employees. He goes on to predict that 70% of those businesses creating the jobs will be women or minority owned. He continues with the belief that 70% of these new jobs will NOT require a college education and that 70% of those jobs will be engaged in international trade.

These prophetic words reinforce the prediction that micro businesses (five employees or less) are the fastest growth sector in the US economy. Many of the people who’ve been laid off have either been unable to find jobs or have chosen to start their own businesses rather than further subject themselves to the impersonal whims of big business.

Peter Drucker wrote that it was easier to buy innovation than to grow it inside large corporations. The corporate cultures that innovate run counter to the cultures that leverage products and services and scale them up for wider distribution.

The irony here is that the mind set that invents and innovates frequently also runs counter to the simple systems needed to take creativity and turn it into a successful business.

As Michael Gerber wrote in his landmark book, The E-myth, there’s a big difference between baking a great pie and running a great bakery business. As I mentioned before, many of the people who are and will be starting these micro businesses are probably experts at what they do, but the vast majority are going to need assistance turning their expertise into a business.

What all of these random theories add up to is the idea that over the next decade and probably into the foreseeable future there will exist the opportunity to fashion an industry around providing affordable, business-systems and processes for micro business people.

What business opportunities do you see arising out of the changes brought about by the current economy?

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Highest Common Denominator

I was thinking about how the basics in life are the basics in business….being honest and consistent in your business practices and brand-messaging. Don’t over-promise…over-deliver. These sorts of thoughts run through my head all the time. I don’t separate my life into work and other. Work is one of the ways I invest my time as I live my life. As such, I don’t have one set of values for work and another set for the rest of the time.

It’s hard work finding customers. I want to keep them. It’s too expensive to just work with people once. I feel the same way about my friends. However I found them, I appreciate them. I’ve invested in our relationships and I don’t want to squander that investment.

So, whether it’s at work or elsewhere I behave in a manner that I believe encourages trust. I believe I’m worthy of people’s trust and I behave accordingly.

I mentioned being honest and consistent about what I say. I do my best to manage expectations. I want people to feel they get more out of their time with me than it “cost” them. I want people to want to have a relationship with me, business or otherwise.

I treat people with respect. I do my best to be on time and I want others to show me the same courtesy. I listen to people when they talk to me; I want others to give me their attention when I am speaking to them. I treat people fairly and want to be treated so in return.

This is beginning to sound like a rant and that’s not my intention.

What I’m offering is the belief that treating people with respect is appropriate behavior at all times: at work, behind the wheel of your car, at home, everywhere. Not everyone has gotten this message. All I can do, is do my best to lead by example.

I am asking everyone who reads this, to do your best to lead by example, as well. Holding ourselves accountable to the highest common denominator standard of behavior will enrich all of our lives. I think that’s what civilization is supposed to do for us.
If I may, let me encourage you to choose civility.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Focus is Good for You

People have always used used metaphors to help them understand their world. As we became and industrial society we used to speak of the universe as running like a fine watch. Today, considering the influence of computers it’s no surprise that we speak of our mental capacity in terms of bandwidth. It turns out that neuroscientists have determined how fast our brains process information and it’s a finite amount in terms of bytes processed per second. That number is not the focus here, but the fact that it exists.

There is another similarity between our brains and computers. Just as when we switch from one program to another on our computers our brain must power down one form of application and then “boot” another application to perform disparate tasks.

Now, granted, for most of us this may happen faster than our awareness. None the less, that does not mean the process is not happening. Hence, when we multi-task (a misnomer in itself as we are simply performing series of sequential tasks) our brain must shut down and reboot between each unrelated task.

Research has shown that long term this behavior deteriorates the brain. So, let me encourage you to take or should I say, retake control of yourself. Instead of attempting to perform multiple tasks “simultaneously” give your complete attention to each task at hand. Contrary to popular belief, you’ll get more done and your brain will perform better, longer.

After all in the knowledge economy our brains are our only truly competitive advantage.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I Want My SM

President Obama’s use of social media (SM) in the campaign and now in his administration is getting a lot of attention. Everywhere I turn people are talking about SM. It reminds me of years ago when people were screaming “I want my MTV.” It appears SM is the next big thing. It is IT. I hear everything from SM is worthless to it’s priceless. I hear people asking “Why would I want to Tweet, Facebook, or get LinkedIn?” Other people claim their spouses are “addicted”. Still others preach the gospel that SM is the new communication Holy Grail. After all, look how successfully President Obama uses SM. The margin between Senator, now President Obama and Senator McCain mirrored the gap between the numbers of people registered on their respective SM sites.

May I encourage you to step back for a moment and recognize that SM is simply a collection of tools? In that sense it’s no different than print, broadcast and other online media. It has different characteristics and features, but in the end it’s simply a collection of new communication tools.

What set the Obama campaign apart from the McCain campaign wasn’t how they used these new tools, but why. It was about what they were trying to accomplish. Historically, market communicators tell people a message about their product. In the case of the election, Senators Obama and McCain were the products. Traditionally, it’s standard operating procedure to develop a series of talking points and to educate the sales/campaign staff to be able to consistently tell those points to everyone.

The Obama campaign did this. It also, asked people what was important to them. Then the campaign took action to address those issues locally. One of the most important responsibilities of leaders is to tighten communication between their followers. Senator Obama used SM not only to talk to his followers, but also to listen to them and then the campaign used SM to organize his followers to take action. His new media team made it easier for people to create the change they wanted.

I think SM has great potential for initiating and strengthening relationships with prospects and customers alike. So, let me encourage you to open a Facebook or a LinkedIn account. Play around for awhile, lurk, and watch how people are using these new “toys”. Once you’ve experienced them you’ll start to think of ways to use these tools strategically. It will take patience, but remember it took time to learn how to effectively use radio and TV to achieve marketing results.

Look for me on Facebook and LinkedIn and thanks for reading this blog.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Realizing Insight by Stating Unstated Assumptions

The field of Economics can be summed up in one sentence: people respond to incentives. This premise coupled with the ever constant pursuit to understand the cause and effect relationship of events are foundations of western thought. It’s this drive to discern the causes of behavior that drives people to search for answers when predicted behavior fails to materialize.

One of Mark Twain’s more amusing quotes is, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” That quote never fails to bring a smile to my lips. Not because I believe numbers lie; given our business of course I don’t. But because, numbers can be manipulated to serve whatever position someone wishes to support.

I bring up these three isolated concepts not to debunk them, but to raise our consciousness as we pursue understanding our customers. Many of us have built huge repositories of data chronicling the behavior of our current and prospective customers. We believe that within these oceans of data lies hidden the keys to understanding their future behavior. And, perhaps, it does.

In his best seller, Freakonomics, Steven Levitt encourages us to pull back and look for relationships between apparently unrelated subject areas. Some of his insights about such varied topics as lowered crime rates, the motivations of salespeople and parenting all required the willingness to consciously examine and then question unstated perceptions and commonly held explanations.

So, let me encourage you to examine the obvious. It’s difficult, because most unstated assumptions seem so obvious that it feels condescending to even mention them. Taking the risk to seem foolish stating the “givens”, questioning their current validity and then looking at all of our data can be the beginning of discerning earth shaking new insights.

We are finding that given the current economy getting the basics right is now more important than ever. Remember, at one time it was common knowledge that the sun revolved around the earth.

Monday, March 30, 2009

It’s a Matter of Attitude

I admit it I was eavesdropping. I couldn’t help it. They were talking right next to me and they weren’t being very quiet. It was a couple of small business owners. They looked to be in their late thirties or early forties. The woman was talking to the man about the struggle she was having growing her business and he was offering what seemed like helpful suggestions. Now, I’ve already admitted I was listening what I haven’t told you is how hard it was for me not to join in.

Relax, I didn’t chime in, but I wanted to. Why? Well, because the man was offering some sound suggestions about how the woman could take advantage of social media to reach her target market. She was polite, but she wasn’t having any of it. Every tool he suggested she dismissed. “I don’t have time for that.” “What am I going to say?” “That’s a waste of time.” “They’re just kids online anyway.”

Now, this isn’t about age or gender. I’ve heard enough of these conversations where the woman was advocating the new social media platforms or where an older person was engaged with new tools and a younger person was resistant.

No, what this is about is resistance to change. I’ve heard it said that when
Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone people thought of it as a novelty. Why would anyone want to talk to someone 100 miles away? You can write them a letter. Seems absurd in our world today where we use mobile phones to talk to people in the same room. Good or bad, the fact is you reach people where you can and if you can’t be bothered to reach out to people where they are you’re unlikely to reach them at all.

The new social mediums are unfamiliar to the majority of people. It’s no different from the early days of radio, TV and for that matter the Internet itself. There will always be a next new thing. That’s just another fact in our ever changing world. That does not alleviate the need on the part of business people to keep abreast of the new media. As business owners we need to build awareness of our goods and services with our target audiences. No awareness, no interest; no interest, no desire; no desire and nobody will do business with us.

Don’t let your lack of familiarity stop you from exploring the new social media. One of the greatest challenges that all business owners face today is remaining relevant to our customers. Overcome your discomfort and investigate Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, and Delicious, et al. You figured out how to drive a car because you were motivated. You can figure this out, as well. It’s just a matter of deciding you’re going to do it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Delicious Idea

The media is a buzz these days about Social media. So, I’m going to try and
offer some guidance about one of the new tools. Seth Godin says one of the prime responsibilities of a leader is to make it easier for followers to communicate with one another; to tighten up the tribe so to speak. Delicious
is a cool tool for allowing people to manage their own information and to share their “library” with one another.

I’ve heard the Internet and the World Wide Web described as many things over the years. The one that has stuck with me is, “The World Wide Web is like the Library of Congress with all of the books thrown onto the lobby floor and no card catalog.”

That’s what makes Delicious, so delicious. Among other things; it’s the missing card catalog.

Delicious is a self-proclaimed “social bookmarking service that allows you to tag, save, manage and share Web pages all in one place. With emphasis on the power of the community, Delicious greatly improves how people discover, remember and share on the Internet”.

Delicious has four main components: Bookmarks, People, Tags and Search.

It uses Bookmarks to archive information just like your web browser.

It has a People section, like Facebook. It’s called your Network and it’s a people aggregator. It allows you to see what people you respect feel is important and provides a venue for you to share what you think is important.

It allows you to Tag articles. This is the card catalog feature. You get to attach multiple designations or categories to individual articles.

Then there’s the Search engine which allows you to search the articles you’ve tagged, those tagged by the people in your network as well as those articles tagged by everyone who uses Delicious.

When I decided I wanted to write about this I searched “Delicious” and over 9,000 articles appeared. That wasn’t helpful. So, I added “useful” to my search and the results were narrowed down to just over 2,000 articles. Now I could have continued refining my search, but after a quick scan I found an article that interested me on the first screen.

Now, there is no such thing as a free lunch. It will take a few minutes to set up your account and a little trial and error reading the very helpful Help section, but the payoff is well worth the investment. I’m sure there will be additional big things coming along any day, but in the here and now; Delicious is our flavor de jour. You can find us on Delicious at or by clicking on the Delicious badge to the right.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Meaningful Work

In Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers, The Story of Success, he makes a few points I think we’d all benefit from recognizing.

Success is a combination of talent, hard work, and opportunity. There’s an old saying that luck is where preparation meets opportunity and in each of his stories this holds true.

Every one of the stories is about people who had an interest in something and they worked at developing their skills. In the case of the musicians, programmers and athletes; our heroes were passionate about what they were doing. Honing their skills was play.

In every case, the protagonists were doing meaningful work. Whether they were farmers, lawyers or tailors they invested time in getting good at what they did. How much time? 10,000 hours. In all of his examples Gladwell found that his heroes had worked for ten years developing their skills before opportunity knocked.

Ten years? 10,000 hours? What a daunting thought. Surprisingly not when you consider that Bill Gates was just 14 when he started playing around with a computer. What do you enjoy doing? What skills have you developed? Take some time for self reflection and inventory your skills. Pay attention to those things that your interest and hopefully passion have led you to invest your time.

Then take a look at the world today. I call it market research; you might as well, too. Look and see where your skills, those talents you’ve honed, can meet a need or better yet fulfill a desire.

You never know, you may have unconsciously been preparing for today. You may have to invest more time, but when you develop the level of proficiency we’re talking about here, putting those skills to work feels like play.

Success for all of us is within our reach, today. Assess your skills and look for the opportunity to apply them to meaningful work. A good place to start is Gladwell’s new book. Listen to it on your iPod if you can’t find time to read.

There’s meaningful work out there for all of us.