Something that has been bouncing around my head since an interview during the Olympics by Matt Lauer with Bode Miller. (I think this is the interview, but since I’m in Germany now, I can’t verify.) Matt asked Bode about a comment that he made regarding the gold not mattering to him. Matt was pushing about whether this was true, and from what I remember if it was disrespectful to the gold or not. Bode made a great point, and I relate to what he said. He does not judge himself by whether he wins the gold or not, it is how he performs compared to how he believes he should have performed.
It is easy to say that Bode is pretending to be above the medal. It isn’t that though. He values the gold, but he values his own judgement of his performance more. No one knows better than you how you could have performed. You know the conditions of the hill, better than you think, even. Yes, there are things out of your control, but that’s part of the sport. It is how you handle yourself on the hill. Did you respond the way you could, or did you hit snooze? This is exactly what Bode meant. Only he knows when he’s performed to his potential … 1 gold, 8 golds, or none. Do you regularly think about how you performed by your own standards?
I do and I find it frustrating. Bode has me on his Zen approach to this. What I love about it is that I do think it holds me to a higher standard overall. I know better than anyone what I can accomplish. However, as Bode points out, winning or losing takes on a different scope. When there is a mismatch between your beliefs on performance and the world’s, it is unsatisfying. Either you feel not worthy of praise because you could have done better, or you feel cheated because you did your best, and it wasn’t recognized.
So, what is the take away? Judge yourself by your own standards, but make sure you hold those standards high. Benchmark yourself with others, still staying true to you.
And why do you want to do it? Because ultimately for you, you do know best. Trust yourself, and challenge yourself.
I admit it, I have not been a fan of TechCrunch or Michael Arrington. I found the site (led by Arrington) tended to be bubble-ish on hype, post-bubble-ish cynicism, and FoA biased. That said, NO ONE SHOULD SPIT ON MICHAEL ARRINGTON, much less threaten his life. It disturbed me to read Michael’s post about taking a break, particularly because the final straw took place in Germany — my second home.
I’ve seen some spiteful actions related to Spreadshirt’s founder, Lukasz Gadowski. It rarely impacts us at all, just an annoyance. Luckily, Lukasz, Matthias and the team they recruited built a strong company that can withstand spitting like this. It has made me think several times though… why do people spend time and energy trying to tear something down. What is in it for them? Like with Arrington, what was gained by spitting on him?
I know I’ve done some mean things when I was tired or frustrated. I also know I’ve stopped myself from doing them too by taking a breath and remembering, “mean people suck”. Yes, it is human nature to get frustrated and angry. But we can all take that breath too. Spend that energy building something up, take that responsibility, make things better. It is that simple.
Michael, I hope you come back.
Some people would say to the above that things can’t change. I’m going to give you two examples now of how they have.
Web 2.0 has changed crisis response in the world of PR from “announcements” by an organization to a “conversation.”
While it hasn’t taken the world over, as it takes change on both the side of the journalists and corporations, it is happening. In 10 years, crisis management will be nothing like it was for the last 30 years, and the direction towards conversation is a positive direction, because few crises are black and white. There is always more story, and we learn more from conversations than sound bites.
Somewhat similarly, SuperBowl ads are changing to conversations. The water cooler chatter is extending to before the Super Bowl, and the driving force after. I look at what is happening is a transition from brand image implantation to brand experience. As Brian Carr pointed out in his post about “after the ad”, it is becoming less about the brand image being burned in with follow-up ads, and more about the conversations before and after the Super Bowl.
Both of these changes point to conversations with your customers being increasingly important. Social media strategies — real, interactive, aggressive strategies — must be on your list. And this shouldn’t be just to “be there”, but to converse. Who are your examples of companies that do this well? Who is from the old economy who has made the transition?
And to add some fun to the end of this serious post, check out this great watch I found today:
The main part of the excerpt is about how “genius” can be tracked to practice/hard work, specifically narrowing to about 10,000 hours of practice being required. Good, interesting information with several fun studies and stories to back it up.
Another (more dispersed) piece of the excerpt is about timing. Here are the two points made about the “timing” of genius:
Take ice hockey in Canada: look at any team and you will find that a disproportionate number of players will have been born in the first three months of the year. This, it turns out, is because the cut-off date for children eligible for the nine-year-old, 10-year-old, 11-year-old league and so on is January 1. Boys who are oldest and biggest at the beginning of the hockey season are inevitably the best. And so they get the most coaching and practice, and they get chosen for the all-star team, and so their advantage increases - on into the professional game.
…an astonishing 14 on the [Forbes 75 richest people in history] list are Americans born within nine years of each other… [snip, snip]… almost 20% of the names come from a single generation - born between 1831 and 1840 in a single country. The list includes industrialists and financiers who are still household names today: John Rockefeller, born in 1839 (the richest of the lot); Andrew Carnegie, 1835; Jay Gould, 1836; and JP Morgan, 1837.
[snip, snip] It was when all the rules by which the traditional economy functioned were broken and remade. What that list says is that it was absolutely critical, if you were going to take advantage of those opportunities, to be in your 20s when that transformation was happening.
If you were born in the late 1840s, you missed it - you were too young to take advantage of that moment. If you were born in the 1820s, you were too old - your mindset was shaped by the old, pre-civil war ways.
Today, many of us are feeling limited by timining — specifically, why did this financial crisis have to hit now, just as we were hitting a stride. Re-read this sentence about why 20% of the 75 richest people in history come from one country and one period:
It was when all the rules by which the traditional economy functioned were broken and remade.
While it is scary, this financial crisis is the breaking of our traditional economy. What is amazing is that this is happening on a global scale. It isn’t just about one country, but about one large global economy that is being broken. Now, it is our time to remake it.
Since many of you reading my blog are near my age, you will also be thinking about the next sentence that said you had to be in your 20s to take advantage of that. But read the next paragraph: This is your choice. Don’t be stuck in your mindset that was shaped by the old, pre-global economy, pre-financial correction days. You can look at our situation as Sequoia did in their famous RIP Good Times session for their entrepreneurs, or you can look at this as a new economy. How will it be remade? What do you know now that will be wrong for the future? What will be right?
When I read Titan, I thought I could learn a great deal from Mr. Rockefeller, but I never imagined I would be living in similar times as him. This excerpt is making me think differently on this, and I am feeling excited and ready for the challenge — even though you have to divide by 2 to get me to 20.
I would add a third important point to Mr. Gladwell’s points: practice, timing, and support. Mr. Gladwell mentions this too in passing. For the hockey players, it is the ones that go the most coaching. In speaking of Mr. Gates and Mr. Joy it was access to computers (and specifically the people who gave them that access). Remember to support each other!
I have a heavy briefcase-backpack. Everyone asks me why. My reason is that I have an overwhelming need to be prepared. So, if you want to check out the contents of a workaholic, overly prepared, frequent global traveler, check out my annotated picture on flickr:
[Stinky IE won’t show the picture embedded with annotations. You can see it on flickr here.]
My top 5:
I love reading. I carry 2-3 magazines, and generally 2 books — one personal, one business.
I have left many posts site in my drafts folder, but I can’t let this day go by without supporting Blog Action Day. The purpose of Blog Action Day is to bring focus to an issue that matters to all of us by putting the power of blogging behind one topic. This year’s topic is Poverty.
I’m not an expert on poverty, and haven’t been an anti-poverty advocate other than occasional donations and volunteer work. As I was thinking about this post, I did what I normally do when I start thinking about a topic: I went to the Oxford English Dictionary to get a better sense of the topic based on definitions. That’s what drove the subject line and the structure of this post.
I have to admit that I felt a bit of unease and somewhat frustration… why haven’t I done more? As I thought through this more over the last month, I remembered something my grandmother, Zella Beattie, used to say to me: Use your talents.
It sounds simple, too simple or broad for impact. Aren’t we always using our talents… except when we get lazy? What she meant though is along the lines of what Marcus Buckingham is teaching regarding focusing on your strengths. This leads to the question of what are your strengths, and how can the regularly be used to help the state of poverty, in your city, country, continent, or world — as part of your daily life, along with special actions, like donations and volunteering — official or unofficial.
So, as a high-tech executive, where are my strengths best used to act against poverty? Here are my top 5:
Job creation. A great deal is reported in the news about layoffs, what isn’t reported is job creation. The most thorough statistics I found are from the Small Business Administration in the US, reporting employment across companies from 1990-2005. In only two years of that 15 year span has there been a decrease in net employment numbers. Remarkable record. I am a business builder — less poor.
Training. I believe in focusing a business on skilled work – anything else possible should be outsourced, as it isn’t how you will win. Skilled work also means you need to train employees, making an investment in them. Training ==> higher productivity ==> better margins ==> more money to invest back into the business. With a focus on training, along with increasing your business value, you are increasing the overall wealth of the population by adding more skill — less deficiency.
Vendor relationships. Understand your vendors in the same way you understand your customers. What are their goals and how do you fit in? Select those vendors that are important to your business and spend the time building the relationship. Together, you will find efficiencies pretty easily, and you will also find new business opportunities regularly. Being strategic about your vendors means a healthier, stronger business — less scarcity.
Community action. When it comes to community action that supports your business, my hero is Danny Meyer, who started Union Square Cafe and has turned it into a very successful restaurant and catering group in NYC — one of the toughest places in the world to succeed with a restaurant. He’s had a community-action approach with every restaurant with an eye to the community impact. I highly recommend his book, Setting the Table, to learn more about a community-focus for your business — less destitution in your area.
Mentoring. As an executive, realistically, you can impact 1-3 companies at most. But you have a multiplier in the people that you provide mentoring. Mentoring can be formal or informal. Intuit had an incredible internship program that was designed in a way that increased mentoring opportunities. I have wanted to start a similar program via a network of start-ups and growth businesses to provide strength in numbers. Thanks to Blog Action Day for bringing this back to the forefront of my mind. I believe that through mentoring the multiplier effect will keep that job creation number high. Go out and inspire others for less poverty!
Thanks for listening. Writing this post has helped me think about some new ways I can have an impact on poverty in my everyday life. I thank the folks at Blog Action Day for encouraging this type of thought exercise, as I know it will lead to actions. Please take some time to visit there site, as there is a wealth of resources and ideas on what you can do to help!
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ”the top, summit, apex, very end” is the first definition of the noun tip. The definition tells you that there is more behind this thing called a tip, as it is only the summit, or the end, not the full story.
Via a newsletter from Gazelles, I just came across a great tip for how to spend your more time on income-producing activities that I’m going to try.
Alex Lopez with Sydney-based Quantify Corporation uses a simple technique to double his income-producing activities. He divides his to-do list into two columns. Column one is labeled “Non-income Producing Activities” (Red) and Column two is labeled “Income Producing Activities” (Green). He then forces himself to place a to-do item in one of the two columns. When he first started, his non-income producing activities outnumbered his income-producing activities by a two to one ratio. Over time, he’s been able to flip that ratio.
Yes, you can quibble with yourself about whether something is income producing or not, but what is important is that you are thinking about it. And you can quibble about the reasons why this helps and shouldn’t you be doing something deeper to change what you do. Or you can take this as a “point” and just try it. You’ll learn and improve — even without the full story of why you do what you do behind it. Thanks to Gazelles and Alex for sharing this tip! I’ll tell you how my use goes.
And furthering the tip theme, we had a project at the Innovation Lab at Intuit that involved tips. The basic premise was that many people didn’t have time to read a How To, but people needed Tips to get them going in the right direction on something. Tip: When someone asks for your help, ask whether they are “tip” mode, or “how to” mode, and adjust your answer accordingly.
What is on my shirt is one of the best tips I’ve ever received. It comes from my family:
That’s a summit with terrific paths to and from…. enjoy yours!
People that work with me know that I am constantly searching for benchmarks: “Who is the best in the world at this” and how do we learn from them and compare to them? So, when July started looking soft for us, I started calling other retailers and other execs.
To set the stage, our first half of 2008 was incredible. We delivered 97% of a very aggressive plan. Very impressive work from a great team! July started looking soft, but we made a good month in the end. And now August, while we are still posting solid year over year growth, it isn’t where we were, or planned to be. With other execs telling me that they are seeing the same, why am I still feeling frustrated? Am I lacking the wisdom to know the difference between what I can control and what I cannot?
I could say that, but I won’t.
Remember when Bob Nardelli “resigned” from Home Depot? Mr. Nardelli and the board disagreed over his compensation being tied more closely to stockholder gains. He complained that that share price is the one measure that he cannot control. (Read Business Week’s summary.) While I have strong views about the public markets leading to bad executive decisions regarding short-term versus long-term results, I do believe CEOs are in control of their share price. (This does not mean CEOs can always make share prices go up.) Examples are given in the article that while Mr. Nardelli was doing great in some areas, there were other areas, like employee and customer satisfaction, where there were some big questions.
So, yes, the economy impacts my business. But it is my and my team’s responsibility to respond to the economy. It is about risks and contingencies. We need to be prepared. Moving quickly means less reliance on how you did things in the past and more on how you will do them in the future. How do you prepare for that? How do you keep on top of things?
Focus. This is where I have fallen short in the last six months. As things were going well, I let too many visions expand, and didn’t prepare enough for the Summer, and possible impacts of a typically slow season combined with a slow economy. This led to things like missed hand-offs over vacations, not matching an promotional campaign from last year, not pushing some shop partner launches before vacations, etc. All small details, that have overall had a bigger impact.
We are doing too much, missing important details. We need to step back and do less, execute exceptionally well. What are our critical few? Over the next few weeks, I will be working with our team to narrow our list of priorities, so we can deliver an outstanding Fall and Holiday season.
As I think about making tough decisions on priorities, I remember another benchmark I like to keep in mind, a 2006 article from Fortune. It was a study of Fortune 500 companies, comparing founder-led companies to those led by hired executives, like me. Founder-led companies (26 of the 500) overall performed seven percentage points better than the rest of the Fortune 500 over a ten-year period from 1995 to 2005. The two theories presented for why:
Founders care more. “Their companies are their life’s work, so they’re more likely to embrace long-term strategies.”
Founders tend to be industry experts. “They’re less likely to make the kind of disastrous ‘diversifying’ acquisitions that give M&A a bad name. ” (Note, in smaller companies think diversifying activities versus acquisitions.)
Focus on the long-term and on fewer things. Hired executives can learn that from successful founders. I want to be the best by many measures, not just those that are convenient, or fit me or my team well. Sometimes we use our wisdom to say that there are things we cannot control, using those as an excuse to not master what we can control. I think I would add an amendment to the Serenity Prayer:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
the wisdom to know the difference;
and the perspective to challenge that wisdom, when needed.
What is on my shirt today? One of my favorite Susan B. Anthony quotes:
Failure is impossible
P.S. Failure is impossible is also the title of an exceptional book about Ms. Anthony by Lynn Sherr. I highly recommend it, especially during an election season in the US. Voting is a right and a privilege.
For 12 years, I’ve had an ad on my desk that says “Are you afraid to think?” to push myself to consider new points of view, new ways of doing things, new possibilities, rather than sticking with only what I know. When I read Heroic Checklist in Fast Company, it reminded me of this ad. Why?
As described, people think that checklists are “basic”, “routine”, and “dull”. I would have said the same. And, while I loved the stats that Chip and Dan cite, like:
When Michigan ICUs put the checklist into practice over a period of 18 months…[snip] saving the hospitals an estimated $175 million…[snip] Oh, and it saved about 1,500 lives.
…what this article made me realize is that checklists actually free you to think. You no longer spend your time remembering steps, but rather noticing what is happening around the steps in your specific situation. Following a checklist does not make you dull or routine, it presents you with time and freedom that can be used for knowledge work — where you are more valuable.
TIP: The authors of this article are Chip and Dan Heath, who wrote Made to Stick, which I’ve blogged on already. While I find Fast Company to be a top quality magazine, generally, I’d subscribe to Fast Company for their column alone. It is that good.
Let me give you a checklist example close to my heart right now. Last year, I did my first Half Iron triathlon. I had a flat. I started to fix it and realized that I was too anxious to remember all the steps quickly. I ran my bike back to the start. While the official race saviors fixed my flat, a woman told me that she puts a checklist in her flat pack. Honestly, at the time, I thought, “Isn’t that cute? I don’t need no stinkin’ checklist. I just need more experience.”
Now, as I face my first IronMan (t-10 days and counting), a checklist for a flat is what I want in my flat pack. I know I can change the flat, but I need to pay attention to details to do it quickly and notice any issues that could cause problems later. I don’t need to spend time second guessing if I put air in the tube before or after putting it in the tire. I do need to notice if the tire is not seated correctly. A checklist would free me to think, rather than remember. Brilliant!
Based on the recent launch of a cool ad campaign of Holiday Inn Express (take a quiz and possibly win a free shirt that express your breakfast identity — powered by Spreadshirt), I recommended a “shop launch checklist” to our sales team. Nothing went wrong with the launch that prompted this, but I saw it could have been easier on the team. Creating multiple shops (for free t winners and non-winners) — each with many details and the strenuous tracking requirements of a contest — would have been easier if the team could have only focused where their thinking would add value, rather than the dull routine work of remembering when to dot an i and cross a t.
So, what is on my shirt today?
humbled by simplicity
A special request for my friends and family:
In 10 days, Evan and I are attempting our first IronMan. There is a terrific report written by an IMBrazil 2007 finisher that covers how lonely this course is. I wondered how we could take the spirit of you with us, and I had an idea. You know I’m addicted to personalized shirts now, as I love this form of expression. I’m asking that you to go to the Spreadshirt Designer, design a shirt that would inspire you (a quote, a graphic, a saying, one word), order it, take your picture in it, and email me the pic. We’ll take them with us on the 112 mile bike ride for when we need a boost. For free standard shipping, enter goeggers as the coupon during check out. You should order by Sunday to get the shirt in time. If you can and want to do this, thanks for giving us this special boost for the tough miles!
[For my EU friends, by late morning, goeggers will also work for free standard shipping in the EU Spreadshirt Designer. The .com coupon works now.]
By referral of my friend, Phil Terry of Creative Good, I am reading The Americanization of Edward Bok. I double Phil’s recommendation for anyone that wants to read about an inspirational life from very early years; to understand an entrepreneurial mind from the late 1800s; and to learn a bit about publishing during this time. This man was a friend and confidant to nearly every famous author of this time, not to mention all of the US Presidents and other statesmen. An engaging read.
But, what was that about Mark Twain? It is such a coincidence that I read a passage in the book about Mark Twain’s response to an interview by Mr. Bok. Mr. Bok had secured an interview with the notoriously interview-shy Mr. Twain. He sent the written interview to Mr. Twain for his approval. The response (only the first two paragraphs included, the rest is just as brilliant):
My Dear Mr. Bok:
No, no — it is like most interviews, pure twaddle, and valueless.
For several quite plain and simple reasons, an “interview” must, as a rule, be an absurdity. And chiefly for this reason: it is an attempt to use a boat on land, or a wagon on water, to speak figuratively. Spoken speech is one thing, written speech is quite another. Print is a proper vehicle for the latter, but it isn’t for the former. The moment “talk” is put into print you recognize that it is not what is was when you heard it; you perceive that an immense something has disappeared from it. That is its soul. You have nothing but a dead carcass left on your hands. Color, play of feature, the varying modulations of voice, the laugh, the smile, the informing inflections, everything that gave that body warmth, grace, friendliness, and charm, and commended it to your affection, or at least to your tolerance, is gone, and nothing is left, but a pallid, stiff, and repulsive cadaver.
That paragraph, written by a brilliant author, I hope gives you an idea of what it takes to write versus talk. The problem… email is talk in ”printed” form. Most often you miss everything that Mr. Twain calls out, and therein lies the problem.
I read this passage on the plane on Saturday, as I had just had three conversations the past week with people that were emailing problems back and forth and not picking up the phone. This included senior managers who weren’t talking to their team members regularly, but thought it was OK because they were emailing them daily. There is immense value in talking to someone, and it is worth your time. If you think that email takes less time, you are not spending the time writing that the issues deserve.
Before you hit send on an important, even semi-important, email, ask yourself, are you using a wagon on water? If the answer is possibly, then pick up the phone or stand up from your chair and walk a few cubes down… start to talk.
I have a dizzying array of meetings each week. Not all of them are great. The best ones have agendas prepared in advance (something I request of every meeting I’m in) and send to me at least a day before the meeting. This allows me time to think through what is needed and prepare some thoughts and responses. I would not trade that dizzyness for more emails. Meeting with team members gives me more energy than an email could, because of the soul that Mr. Twain points out comes across in a talk.
If you are a manager, have regular one-on-ones with your team members. If you find yourself with nothing to say in those meetings, then you are missing the point, and you and your team member need to prepare for those meetings more. Spend time in advance reviewing emails sent since the last meeting and thinking about goals, then you will have plenty to discuss.
What’s on my shirt today?
email is cheap
talk is valuable
P.S. Creative Good is a wonderful organization. If you don’t know them, you should.
Though those that grew up with me would laugh, I am often asked how I stay calm in various, stressful situations. The reason my friends and family from long ago would laugh is that I’m not known by them as having an even temper. I’m passionate about life and that comes out pretty clearly and quickly, but what I’ve learned from my experience that they haven’t seen… perspective.
HSBC has been running an ad campaign for about a year that hits perspective well. The ads juxtapose two images with labels, then show the images again with the labels switched. My favorites:
With each of these I can remember my own perspective turning point. I am not and never have been interested in having children, and earlier, I often wondered why anyone woud do it. As my friends have had kids and I’ve gotten up close and personal with kids, I’ve seen what a sense of fulfillment and happiness children can bring. It has not changed my beliefs for my life, but it does make me much more calm and centered when I’m sitting on a flight next to a screaming, breast feeding baby. (I am completely serious.)
In business, even when I don’t have specific experience perspective, I do ask myself, “Why would that be happening?” And then try to realize what different perspectives there might be. This helps come to not only a sense of calm about the status, but a set of possible solutions based on different perspectives.
As I am writing this, I’m reminded of a Dan and Chip Heath Fast Company Make Goals Not Resolutions article from this Winter. Their analysis of how you achieve your resolutions is to visualize how you are going to reach what you want. Perspective is exactly that… visualization from different angles. In this case, it is to understand and succeed.
What is on my shirt today? In another post, I’m going to cover my thoughts on Danny Meyer’s book Setting the Table, which is an extraordinary book on business and hospitality. He introduces the word
as a South African greeting, which was translated as “I see you.” As Danny says, “That simply and effectively addresses the core human need to be seen and to feel seen.” To me, understanding someone’s perspective is the best way to really see them.