When you’re starting a company, so much of your life is spent asking people for things: time, attention, feedback, and even money. It gets exhausting and can make you feel like a persona non grata in your social circles.
The challenge, as you know, is that people are generally not motivated to do things now that could prove useful in the future, but are driven by their more immediate needs — like figuring out where to have lunch.
Convincing people to change their behaviors and try something new starts to feel like beating your head against a wall. I’m learning that it’s a sign we’re doing it wrong. Pitching the business should always be about meeting explicit needs, which is a matter of helping people surface them.
In a world focused on viral messages, we underestimate the importance of the personal story and close-network connections and niche needs-meeting when we pitch our company. By focusing on cultivating a few significant relationships with people who believe in us and are excited about what we can do for them, we’ve gotten a lot farther than with a big and unsuccessful marketing blitz.
Founders, try this the next time you’re pitching your company: “We help our clients solve ________ [insert challenges]. If you tell me about what you do, I can apply our model to that to help you better understand.”
I’m learning that promoting the company is not an endurance game but a question of contextualization.
From Ego-systems to Ecosystems in Business:
— Quote Of The Day By Gerd Leonhard | Owengreaves.com (via fromegotoeco)
“The future of business and media is all about interconnected business models that generate mutual benefits for everyone. The era of ‘egosystems’ such as walled, controlled, centralized and RoI-obsessed businesses, is rapidly closing. Now it’s all about creating powerful ecosystems that are built on openness, standards, transparency, trust and decentralization. Think Google versus AT&T, or Twitter versus FoxNews.”
(via Burrito Justice)
Who spent an afternoon at a Smithsonian lecture on the spread of the taco in the global marketplace? This girl.
As a former student of trade theory, I wholeheartedly promote the idea of teaching trade as it pertains to tacos. Also, I just returned from a week in Quintana Roo and have become a bit of a Mexican food dilettante. This was the ideal lecture.
Jeffrey M. Pilcher, taco aficionado and professor of history at the University of Minnesota, has traced the history of the taco to — wait for it — the modern era. Turns out that it was not eaten by the Mayas or Aztecs, but created by silver miners in the late 1800s in Mexico. (There’s a whole etymological explanation in Pilcher’s book that’s provides pretty interesting support of this theory.)
The taco came to the U.S. via diaspora in the early 1900s, and spread from there to every corner of the globe by U.S. military personnel, oil field workers, and surfers. (Non sequitur: if you’ve ever read “The Power of Pull” you know that surfers have spread a lot of ideas around the globe — they’re an interesting sociological group to watch.)
Why does the taco hold such sway with Americans? Because it’s cheap, and wrapped up in danger, says Pilcher. It reminds me a bit of my friend describing what her two-year-old wanted to learn about every object in his world: how does it taste, and how does it fly.
Gustavo Arellano (author of the amazing book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America) talks about how, as a culture, we’ve graduated from Taco Bell and canned tamales to real Mexican food by seeing immigrants eating it, wanting to partake of the danger, and falling in love with it. It’s one of the main foods that people want upon returning from some far-flung place.
Cliff’s Notes version of this blog: The taco: not ancient, but authentically American.
Photo cred: Smithsonian Magazine
There’s a lot of debate over happiness data: whether it should be a part of official national statistics, how to quantify it, etc.
Meanwhile, researchers are honing in on the sources of happiness, and it turns out to be the little things that count. Compounding lots of small, good things positively stimulates your brain.
With that in mind, I do a few small things every Friday to reset.
• Write down three new things I’m grateful for;
• Write for two minutes a day describing one positive experience I’ve had over the past 24 hours;
• Exercise for an hour;
• Meditate for two minutes, focusing on breath;
• Write one quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising someone in my social support network (family member, friend, old teacher, coworker).
What do you do?
“We now have the ability to gather huge amounts of data. This ability seems to carry with it certain cultural assumptions — that everything that can be measured should be measured; that data is a transparent and reliable lens that allows us to filter out emotionalism and ideology; that data will help us do remarkable things — like foretell the future.”
David Brooks is onto something here. Data doesn’t tell us everything, not directly at least. The smartest thing I heard this week is that sports team managers (hockey, I think) are looking generally at how the team does when someone is on the ice/field/court vs. when they are not.
Plenty of players on sports and business teams help move things along, but their style may not be to take a shot on goal. If this is so, how can a manager measure their value?
I’ll give you an example from rowing, a sport I know. It’s called the seat race. You switch one rower from one boat with another rower in a second boat, from the same seat, and you race; then you assess the outcome. You keep switching rowers and racing until you have the ideal makeup (the fastest time, the greatest length distance, etc). This is the alternative approach to simply throwing together eight women who have the fastest time on the ergs (rowing machines).
Simple metrics may not get you to the right team makeup. Don’t just look at the data, try some gray-area assessment tactics like these.
Two ideas I took away from a recent meetup with the founder of HelloWallet, Revell Horsey, who was a banker/investor for many years prior to his company’s founding.
1) Investors won’t take seriously a company that bills itself as both B2C (consumer-facing business) and B2B (enterprise-focused business). Anyone who aims to do both should narrow their focus to one, and keep the plan and pitch simple. Every successful company has to started squarely in one camp or the other.
He also noted that B2B is really B2B2B2C, and that the distinction is really one of marketing: does the company acquire relationships? Or does it invest heavily in SEO and SEM?
Depending on how you describe your company, investors will look for marketing strategies that reflect your customer acquisition strategy. Side note: There is a dearth of investors who fund B2C businesses with under $10 million in sales, which is good to keep in mind when you are making the B2C vs. B2B decision.
2) Investors are going to be very interested in your company’s higher-level goals — namely, how the company’s technology or services will change behavior for the better, improving customers lives and even the world. (Think big!) The reason is: It’s good to be critical to your customers and, to the degree that it’s possible, position your company/product as one that is needed to ensure the lives, operations, and growth of your customers.
One of the biggest challenges of the work environment — no matter who we are, or where we’re employed — is balancing the fact that work is inherently a transactional relationship. We give our time, energy, mental facilities, and we derive a paycheck. But work is also where we spend the majority of our lives, so there is also a high degree of emotional connection and need that is wrapped up in our jobs.
Balancing the transactional and emotional is a constant at-work theme for us all when we clock in or boot up our laptops. We are all working simultaneously to support our organizations and establish ourselves within the social hierarchy, which relies heavily on real power and perceived power. The former is the strength of our contributions and our social relationships, while the latter is elusive for some and nebulous for all. Our real power is established by real work. Our perceived power swings depending on how we play our cards, so to speak.
We struggle most with perceived power, as it’s wrapped up with our ego and it can make us act in ways that are not true to our personal values. Let me give you an example. Say you’re a manager and an employee underperforms, there are formal steps you can take to address the issue. If you work as a member of a team, and someone underperforms, and you have no formal mechanisms to address, it’s easy to feel slighted, taken advantage of, under-appreciated, or even used. It’s easy to try to inflect power, or try to undermine the other person (especially if you believe he/she acted in bad faith), but it’s the wrong move.
The irony is, we undermine ourselves when we react, and reduce our perceived power and even our real power. Our emotional attachment to our perceived power misdirects our actions. To maintain it, and to create a better work environment for yourself (first) and your colleagues (second), we should keep some principles in mind:
1) Every day we show up to work because we chose to (we are free to leave for other jobs/companies, putting aside some structural rigidity that may make this difficult). We have agency, we can choose how to respond to our situations, our colleagues, and the structure of the organizations for which we work.
2) People will fail us, and even actively undermine us on occasion, but we get to choose how to respond to this. One of the best managers I have known put it this way: Stop thinking about how things are allocated and how you can get credit, and put your team ahead of your personal ego, and you will be paid greater dividends for your efforts. I interpret this to mean that the actual role of the manager is to create leaders in every single person on the team, and only then will you be successful.
3) The way to make others care is not to demand it, but to encourage them to find it within themselves. Not everyone is aware of what their actions cause, but asking people to explain why they are there and what they aim to accomplish in their roles, and how their roles fit with what they care about in the world can help them (re)connect with the mission and vision of the team and take a stake in the outcome.
4) Now for something truly radical: how can you maintain grace and give to others without expectation? The whole idea of giving is wrought when even charity isn’t entirely self-less, but what if you didn’t ask for anything from your colleagues, what if there was no expectation or disappointment. What would this do for others’ sense of agency and their contributions. Would this create greater trust? Likely. Would this make everyone happier at work? Definitely.
Photo copyright: The Atlantic
Intellectual copyright: My friend Regan, who brings the Ithaca/T-Burg perspective to capitalism. Xoxo.
Obama told us today: “We are made for this moment”
And it got me thinking. Should we all have a grand strategy? What about a personal vision or mission statement? Or, at the very least, a principled and structured way to determine how we act and react?
I was struck by listening to Obama’s Obama’s Second Inaugural Address on the Mall today that we all need grand strategies and mission statements. If we do not define how we act during adversity and what principles we uphold and defend individually, we won’t know if/when our values are being violated.
Obama’s address demanded “We must act. We must act knowing that our work will be imperfect.” And in her invocation Myrlie Evers-Williams added color, quoting writer Alex Haley’s principle of trying to “find the good, and praise it.”
We need to define for ourselves what is good, and what do we praise. But not doing so does us all a disservice.
I was a terrible employee in my first job as a paralegal at a corporate law firm. The work was pretty simple, and I got it done, but I would also nap off a hangover in storage rooms. It was (sigh) a different era.
Since then, the economy has changed (even for corporate law firms), and I have learned a few things that I wish that recent grads knew (or had the awareness to ask).
1) You are an investment, and while you may think you get paid next to nothing, the cost of employing you is much higher than you think in terms of taxes, administrative costs, health insurance, etc. In the beginning, you are likely paid more than you contribute to the company. It can take a year sometimes to truly succeed in your role. Keep this in mind before you whine about work: If you aren’t immediately better than an unpaid (or underpaid) intern, someone is going to start getting anxious about your under-performance.
2) There is no such thing as a stupid question, but there are under-informed questions. Before you ask a manager how to do the project you’re assigned, try starting it and see what questions arise. Think about what your manager is trying to accomplish and do some actual work you can show her what you’ve done and ask meaningful questions (try hacking at it for an hour at least). You will be better positioned to ask questions that are more helpful to you and don’t drive her nuts. Not taking a shot at it may make her think you’re lazy (or worse). In the same vein, look up any word you wouldn’t bet $100 on its first and second dictionary meaning. If asked to “create hypotheses”, look up the word hypothesis, even if you think you know it. Also, double check the spelling of every name and word usage you’re not confident that you know cold. You may not know much yet, but your contributions should be error-free.
3) You can’t opt out of a project just because you don’t like it. (And no, you are not ready to take on strategy for the organization.) It’s just a reality that not all of your work will be fun. Indeed, not all of your manager’s work is fun (managing you, for example, may be a chore). But you should work hard at what you’re given, as this is the only way that better work will come your way. You should also make yourself critical in at least one area. Excel tricks are a good one. You can learn them all just by Googling. (Please don’t ask your manager how to use a computer program about which millions of help pages can be found online.) When you’re done with your work, and you have asked for feedback, then you can ask for more and better projects instead of spending the rest of your day on Facebook.
4) Try to listen and learn from those around you. If your only life stories are about your roommate or your dad, you may want to find better material. Start by reading more (the newspaper!), or by asking questions, or get a hobby or volunteer experience. Nope, talking about TV programs doesn’t count. You are young, and nobody expects you to be brimming with life experiences, expertise, and great stories. Insightful questions are a great way to learn about the business you’re in and your colleagues, and it will make them more interested in you in return. It will also help your colleagues see you as an adult and a peer, instead of a child. Adults contribute to the conversation; children sit and listen (or worse: look or act bored).
Here are some questions you can ask:
What did you learn in your first job?
What work experiences were pivotal for you?
What did you wish you knew to do/ask when you started your first job?
What books have you read lately?
When it gets cold, I run — yoga mat in hand — to the nearest Bikram studio. Without getting into the cultish aspects of this particular practice. Every class reminds me why managers matter.
The practice consists of the same 26 postures led by a teacher who is tasked with keeping time and following a Bikram-sanctioned script to guide the class. Pretty boring stuff.
With so few variables, it would seem that a computer could lead the class. Wrong! When the tasks are simple and broken down, as they are in a yoga class, the ability of the teacher (manager?) to motivate is even more important than in other disciplines. It is easiest to cut corners as a student (employee?) when you know what’s coming. Your internal monologue (and even boredom) get in your way. The best teachers break through this and persuade you to stretch farther, pull harder, and all that.
This points to the importance of putting the best managers against the more simpler roles in a company. I am reminded of this brilliant episode of This American Life that described a manager who created a fun and gratifying work environment for entry-level employees… at an amusement park (which sounded to me like an impossible task). He did this with games and pranks and a ton of energy.
The best managers are needed for the worst roles because they make people show up and shine every days in jobs that don’t otherwise make them stretch and reach.
Teddy Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” speech is a humbling reminder of one’s place in the world, and where we can find meaning if we dare.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” (delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910)
Photo is TR in his crew uni at Harvard University.
People don’t need more stuff, but they do need access to new forms of information and new ideas.
And when people talk about the “gift economy”, I think the name misleads. It’s not just about gifting things or even time (or simply bartering), but rather economizing on resources according to values. And I think this definition works whether you’re talking about the commons or Burning Man — classic examples of the gift economy at work.
Really what’s happened in the world of supply and demand is the emergence of a social economy whereby we are focused not just on our specific product/service needs, but also the implications of the purchase and how our time and money supports the networks and systems in which we believe. (Shout out to EyeSpend — a great D.C.-based company that’s releasing an app soon that will help us understand the social implications of how we spend.)
In other words, it’s not just about generosity, it’s about consumption that is couched within a decision framework that considers self, others, community, environment, or whatever else is important to us.
Finally, I dismiss those who say that social spending is a “first-world value,” as there are plenty of people in poor rural America who understand what “buy local” means for them and their community, just as there are many more living in developing economies around the world who experience the repercussions of a cheap global supply chains first-hand.
Photo is from my friend Regan, who always shares his best ideas.
“A historical property has morals and ethics of the society that created it … we can discover new possibilities from the process of dismantling, transforming and recreating.” - Ai Weiwei
Parts of our economic system are broken, but instead of trying to repair them we need to recreate them for present and future functionality — fast. The same goes for the businesses that operate in this economic environment.
We’re in the Era of No
Whether we are headed toward a stronger recovery or another recession, the economic reality is that we all face the challenge of doing more with less. Thomas Friedman explains:
“We’re leaving an era of some 50 years’ duration in which to be a president, a governor, a mayor or a college president was, on balance, to give things away to people; and we’re entering an era — no one knows for how long — in which to be a president, a governor, a mayor or a college president will be, on balance, to take things away from people. And if we don’t make this transition in a really smart way — by saying, ‘Here are the things that made us great, that spawned all these dynamic companies’ — and make sure that we’re preserving as much of that as we can, this trend will not spread as it should.”
We’re in the Era of No. For those of us who create, produce, or sell. Our lives aren’t going to get any easier. For those of us who consume, it means few things will be free and to meet our diverse needs, we will come to demand much more valuable and customized products and services.
Managers as magicians
Who will help the business navigate these changes? Who will lead companies as they abandon products and practices in favor of new and better ways forward? Their people, of course. Front line change will be supported, inspired, and facilitated by managers.
For these individuals the task becomes: “’if we did not do this already, would we go into it knowing what we know now and knowing what technologies are now available?’ If the answer is no! The managers’ task is then not creating visions but to ask: ‘How could we plan abandonment rather than try to prolong then life of outdated practices’”. (Esko Kilpi)
Conjuring up change across large enterprises will be a monumental change that many managers aren’t cut out for, and companies that fail to identify and position high-potentials will lose out to competitors who do.
Velocity matters more (most?)
The concatenation of world events (e.g., Arab Spring) underscore that the rate of innovation and change will occur at much faster velocity — generational shifts will occur in months, rather than decades. This means that risk events will hit faster than ever and also that opportunity will come and go at a pace unseen by most senior executives in their professional lifetimes.
Risk (and opportunity) velocity will become a critical metric for companies, and they will marshall forward lots and lots of data to try to anticipate and respond quickly to risks and opportunities. Those who are not attuned to risk and opportunity will find themselves left behind. This hyper-focus will place a premium on the news and sources for information that help businesses make sense of events and economic trends. For legacy news organizations this stands as a pretty important opportunity in the face of their own mortality.
Gifting Is the New Sharing
Idea: Social gifting will become commonplace among friends/family/colleagues.
Premise: Commercial decisions that further real life relationship are desirable to consumers today who want less stuff but also want stronger relationships with friends (and maybe even with brands).
To Do: Use gifting as a mechanism for encouraging customers to convert friends and family to your brand by helping them strengthen these “real life” relationships.
But Social Sharing Still Matters
Idea: Existing platforms will continue to grow (Facebook) and so will new ones (Path) — I’m not prophesying anything monumental here.
Premise: New platforms will come and go with greater velocity.
To Do: Take an “engage and see” approach, not a wait and see approach, with those platforms that make the best sense for your business.
Think Local (Even if You’re a Global Brand)
Idea: The online world has made “local” even more meaningful to consumers.
Premise: Breakout marketing will occur on a more personal basis: between small groups, within trusted circles, and throughout neighborhoods and communities in the real world. But companies are underinvested in cultivating locally-based relationships, and their most common approach (a habit formed online) is to separate online and real world engagement approaches.
To Do: Understand your local merchant partners to make them a bigger part of the brand promotion to make your corporate strategy resonate locally.
Employee Relationship Management Now!
Idea: Employee engagement through social networks will be just as important as customer engagement, particularly when it comes to driving innovation at your company.
Premise: Not one business can afford disengaged employees. Employees of all skill levels seek to be autonomous, sovereign, and committed around a shared vision.
To do: Create a social enterprise by engaging your workforce around core principles, doubling down on recruitment, and take an active lead in training and development, and encourage agency (at all levels).
Time for New Ad Models
Idea: Old advertising models yield diminishing returns, and so do many new ones.
Premise: Daily deals and sample boxes and all manner of other business models have transformed customer expectations and have blunted the effectiveness of advertising as we know it.
To Do: Shift from push- to pull-based marketing. Adopt breaking best practices . Sharpen your messages and outreach to get your ideal customers to engage with your business.
Create Positive Close Encounters
Idea: Meet people where they are, but not necessarily by using mobile strategies.
Premise: Increasing importance on connecting with people who are near to you, and getting “closer” to those who are not connecting with you. If you think about it, food trucks and pop ups have changed the game in terms of location strategies. What can you do to better your position? Even brick and mortar can take advantage of e-commerce, if they treat the “e” as standing for “everywhere”. Just be mindful what you’re sending to customers’ mobile phones — there is serious trepidation in this space.
To Do: Unpack the trends and find new approaches that work for your business. Don’t geo-target messages until you darn know what your customers actually want to hear from you.
Time to Rein in the Technopositivists
Idea: You are looking for too many technical solutions, and not enough psychological ones.
Premise: Faster, cheaper, better isn’t always desirable. Customer engagement at its core is learning what makes your customers happy. Asking them is simply the first step, you must also test and learn in a commercial environment to delve deeper into the feedback you are getting. Qualitative feedback can help you check your tendencies to improve on things that are not needed and focus on what is.
To Do: Creative solutions that expand customer enjoyment and attachment will do more than lowering prices, becoming ever more efficient, etc. The key is to understand what drives customers and how sensitive your frontline workers are to understanding what customers truly care about. (E.g., learn from from coffee shops, gym chains, and SAT prep companies that are more “lifestyle” focused, instead of those that try to win on price along.)
The Purpose Driven Business
Idea: All companies will become increasingly purpose-driven (as well as being revenue-driven).
Premise: Customers have redefined their relationships with businesses. Buying habits is becoming more than a matter of convenience; it is also about self definition, values, and connections. scaling back is not necessarily regarded as a sacrifice by consumers, but rather a way to achieve a greater degree of happiness.
To Do: Tactics for cultivating creative capacity within your customer and employee networks.
Privacy Is Paramount
Idea: Caring is creepy, especially when you care too much about getting user/customer data you don’t truly need to improve experience and service levels.
Premise: Privacy is a big deal, to young people and your older customers.
To Do: Create a clear policy and transparent process for how you protect customers’ personal data. Remove any confusion from any platform that they themselves manage.
Stories — Not Just Numbers — Count
Idea: Big data may be all the rage, but getting granular enough to really learn what the data show, looking at use cases and marketing profiles.
Premise: We look for solutions by collecting more data and creating smarter algorithms, but the effort to quantify everything (even trust and reputation) is distracting us from
To Do: A look at what social trends reveal about emerging behavioral and cognitive patterns (e.g., what does Pinterest signify, and how a $500 3D printer could reshape our economy?).
What would you add?
Excerpted from The New York Times’ interview with Tony Tjan of Cue Ball
1) What is it that you really want to be and do?
2) What are you doing really well that is helping you get there?
3) What are you not doing well that is preventing you from getting there?
4) What will you do differently tomorrow to meet those challenges?
5) How can I help, and where do you need the most help?