August 30, 2011
In my latest book, I reveal the 7th principle of confidence: Promise made, promise kept. Here's the idea: All you've got in the end is your sense of self-integrity. Can you be relied on to keep your word and finish your race?
If you keep your promises, even past the point of pain, you'll become a person of your word -- A person of excellence, execution and all things bankable. Along the way, though, you'll encounter the unkeepable promise - that Happy Talk moment when you raised your hand and said, "I'll make this happen for you!"
I've been there before, one time too many. A few years ago, I stumbled into a great antidote for that generosity driven psychosis.
Keep the impossible promise far past the point of pain.
An engineering friend had a workable business cocnept for online auto purchase utility. I promised to help him with his business plan, then get some angel money from 'some guys I know.'
A few weeks later, it became clear to me that I wasn't very good at business plan, and the investors I knew were only interested in companies already throwing off cash (not power points). Instead of throwing up my hands, I dug in and said to myself, "this will teach you, dude! Stop saying 'I know a guy'!"
The business plan piece alone was a time-drain of epic proportions. Eight weeks went by before that piece of the promise was delivered, in effort, by me. Then came the $ pitches. Both of them. Horrible experiences, where it became clear that no one invests in 'good ideas.'
Luckily for me, my friend gave up and went back to work on his engineering career. And I have never made such an offer since then. Here's the takeaway. Sometimes you only learn at a viceral level - especially when it comes to bad habits like over-promising. Only through excrutiating accountability will you teach your deepest self to stop, quit and never-do-this-again.
Here's a side benefit from keeping the unkeepable promise: You'll discover that the thing you call impossible is usually "just-really-really-really-hard!"
August 25, 2011
And Steve, I want you to know how much I admire and appreciate what you've done for all of us. Throughout your career, you've innovated and battled for what you believe in. You've improved my tech life, inspired me to obsessively focus on the customer experience and gainfully employed hundreds of thousands of people through the ecosystem of products your work has enabled (including my son, Anthony). Here are my favorite contributions from you:
1- The Original Rebel. You flew a pirate flag over a cubicle back in the day, to symbolize your resolution to change the world and defeat the empire.
2 - You adopted a "Less Stuff and Less Steps" approach to computing hardware, starting with the iMac and through the iPad. Before you, new gear was daunting, time consuming and stressful. It takes 15 seconds for my Mac Book Air to launch - that will save me a few years over my old Dell-From-Hell machines.
3 - You launched the iPod at the bottom of the market in 2001, teaching future leaders to seize blue ocean opportunities as well as to understand the primacy of platform (eg., iTunes).
4 - You inspired us with a host of great sayings. Some of my faves include: Real artists ship! I want to put a ding in the universe. Find what you love. Stay hungry, stay foolish. The only thing wrong with Microsoft is that they have no taste - I don't mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way. We make the buttons on the screen look so good you want to lick them. Innovation distintinguishes a leader from a follower. I'm as proud of what we don't do as what we do ... Why join the navy when you can be a pirate?
You've made a difference Steve, as Chairman, please take a break (driver 8) and know that there are millions of people like me that are deeply appreciative of your point of view. I wish you health and happiness and hope in some small way I can pay your contributions forward.
August 24, 2011
Oh yeah, you've got them, and they masquerade as legitimate business activities or required breaks. You know they are time traps, because you can't prove they are adding any value to you or your company. In my estimation, the average person probably loses 25% of their work week to non-productive activities.
It varies, of course, on the individual. Read Todd Duncan's excellent book Time Traps to find some of yours. In my case, I had to track activities for a week in my journal, coding each one for productivity or refueling value. It was an EYE OPENER. Just tracking my web surfing and social media browsing alone identified way to much time spent for too little value. A simple RSS feed reader solves that, bringing only the best information to my attention. Whack!
Checking financial markets? Whack! Seeing how your company or book or friends are doing on some index? Whack! Checking to see if anyone commented on your post or responded to your comment? Whack!
Then, there are standing meetings or phone calls. Scrutinize each one with time in mind - can you space them out (once a month instead) or replace them entirely with an email summary? By applying the productivity test to a week or two's activities, your journal will show you where the fat in your schedule lives. I'm not saying that you need to become a time miser, holing up in your cube 'getting things done' - but I am suggesting that you likely have some blind spots in your daily bizlife that are gobbling up your precious time.
After one month, if you journal-delete and rejournal, you'll recover the time you need to execute, plan and productivity dream your way towards success.
August 19, 2011
At first, I thought it was more corporate jargon. But as I thought about it later, it's one of the most important innovation devices you can ever employ - at an enterprise or personal level. It jives with the "Stick To Your Knitting" advice I've heard often growing up.
The term Wheelhouse has a nautical origin, and has even been adapted to sports. Think of it as your center-of-excellence. For a baseball batter, it's the sweet spot that gives him the opportunity to squarely connect with the ball. For companies, it's a little more complicated, but the same idea applies: When you get out of your sweet spot, things can go sour quickly.
In my career, my biggest mistakes came from stepping out of my wheelhouse. For examples, in 2004, inspired by Wayne Dyer's uber-successful PBS series (and the book that rocketed up the lists as a result of it), I decided I would do a fundraiser too. Immediately, my agent advised me against it, explaining that my brand and style didn't fit the PBS demographic. In other words, I wasn't right for it.
But, like most people chasing 'easy-success', I dug in my heels and pursued the opportunity with one of the leading PBS affiliates. We raised 100k, taped in Pittsburgh and when it aired, it flopped. One caller thought it was a spoof on the Dyer special. The producers tried to package me in turtleneck meets courderoy, so the audience would 'get me'. That's not my style, and I should have known better. I'd show you a clip of it here, but frankly, I'm too embarassed.
Here's the point: Innovation isn't just about saying yes. The best of the best learn to ignore success in others when it's not in their wheelhouse. Today, I often advice companies on marketing strategy, along with talent management. When they consider jumping on various bandwagons, take social media for example, I now employ the wheelhouse device to guide them. Your wheelhouse is comprised of:
1 - Competency
2 - Style
3 - Core Market
4 - Mission (the Why behind your company's What)
This is the proverbial Box that too many innovators want you to work outside of. Sure, it's great to think beyond your core market, or expand your mission (say, from shareholder value to sustainaiblity). But you need to do this incrementally, leveraing elements of your wheelhouse like expertise. As you attempt to build a new Box, you need to test-scale-reconsider. The greatest companies in the world are all vulnerable to a flame out when they divert from their knitting too quickly. Google may be a living example soon enough, as they leap from metrics driven media to production driven manufacturing. Toms Shoes may go the same way, moving from shoes to eye care. The lesson is simple: If you can't surf, don't try and catch the wave!
Question: Is your company trying to bat outside of it's wheelhouse OR have you ever had a #fail from ignoring your sweet spot? Contribute to comments and share.
August 17, 2011
My biz career really got started in the cell phone industry.
I started as a sales rep in the mid-80's, at a Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems sales startup. The services were spotty, mobile phones cost $3000 and weighed 20 pounds (seriously) and most folks installed them into their cars. It was a crazy time in the mobile era, but everyone believed that it would be ubiquitous by the turn of the century.
The best device makers were Okidata, Nokia Mobira and Motorola. Moto's B2000 was the first carry in your hand cell phone, albeit a tennis shoe sized device. They had innovation after innovation, most recently with the Razor and the Droid. But, they also lagged, and were spun off as Mobility to either wither or make a comeback. And make a comeback they did under the watchful eye of Sanjay Jha. The brand re-established itself as the poor man's iPhone. Just like Android.
The Google acquisition makes perfect sense to me. GOOG needs to get into manufacturing or other high volume type businesses to grow into their valuation. They are not worth 200 billion via advertising or licensing alone, the market isn't even that big. Most analysts talk about the 'trove of patents' that the acquisition brings Google, along with synergy for their Android investments.
But, I have another theory. Brin and Page love the backstory at Motorola, involving it's founder Paul Galvin. He was the orignal "Achieve failure and celebrate braveness" entreprenuer, and his story was often shared with me by Tim Koogle (CEO of Yahoo at the time). Baked deep into Motorola culture is this belief, "Don't fear failure." That's going to resonate with the company's new owners, who've proven time and time again - they fear no evil.
After just finishing my read of Levy's sharply written book about Google, In The Plex, I wondered which cell phone company they would buy. Motorola made much more sense than the outdated Nokia or the clunky engineering of RIM. Galvin was the secret saucet that would attract the Googlers in the end.
Back in 2005, I spoke at a Nextel/Sprint conference, celebrating their new merger. I share the Paul Gavin story in full, admonishing the combined group to grasp the founder's vision and move forward into the future with it. Video clip: Tim Sanders tells the Paul Galvin story
August 12, 2011
The worst managers I've ever worked for used my mistakes against me, as leverage. I felt awful, and gave them my least. They used my weaknessness or errors to manipulate, dominate and frankly, play with my head. When a company has too many of these types of managers, the culture goes negative, along with business results. But there is a better way.
Case in point: At Barton Protective Services, new CEO Tom Ward was determined to change the culture of the company from transactional (what have you done for me lately?) to inspirational (we help improve the world!). His secret weapon was a simple Friday routine which he called, "Catching someone doing something right!"
He and his leaders fanned out to the edges of the organization, looking for big and small feats of greatness by employees. Each week, one popped out the mix: Extra effort, process innovation, bravery, customer-centric behaviors, astute accounting, etc. He'd announce it during the weekly wrapup, challenging everyone else to make the next week's roundup.
Within a year, the culture of the company was radically transformed and all the biz-numbers got better: Turnover rates for entry level security guards was cut by more than 50%, satisfaction rates for clients shot up and net profits soared. He realized through it all, that lousy managers look for mistakes and great leaders seek out excellence. His example proves out something author Bill Strickland once told me: "If you run your organization like a prison, your people will act like prisoners."
So get to it, after all it's Catch People Doing Something Right Friday!
August 10, 2011
If you are kind, connected and calm - people will relate to you.
They'll be loyal, supportive, helpful and caring back to you. They will buy from you. That's the value of relationships, you bring out the best in others. You create teams instead of silos. You generate value instead of capturing it. So, mastering the fine art of relationship development is important to your business life.
Over my career, I've isolated the two ingredients that Relationship Masters contain: Emo-Talent and Generosity. Check out this video clip for more on this.
PS - Keith Ferrazi has a Relationship Masters Academy with great resources. Check it out!
August 08, 2011
I've been through these wild market swings before, starting the the breakdown of 2000 the DotCom bubble burst. It was a nightmare on paper, on screen and the minds of people around me. You could tell when someone was spending too much time watching cable TV or surfing Yahoo Finance - he had the 'deer in the headlines look.'
He was also let go in the first wave of layoffs a year later. Because he wasn't working on his work, he was sucked up into the game. He thought that if he checked on the market, and talked about it with his colleagues enough - it would either go away or he'd be picked as the new team leader.
"You can't be paranoide enough," is a strange-but-real part of our bizpsyhce and it's wrong headed. During those times, I advised my team to turn off the news, stop checking on the stocks and focus on the program we were buildling for our clients, and how over-delivering on it was more important than ever. Every single one of them that took my advice was still with the company two years later.
You are no good to your company if you invest more than four smoke breaks of your time on market conditions. As one analyst said last week, "Change your portfolio or sell until you can sleep, then turn it off!" Nothing good will come from time spent watching the blow-by-blow reporting of the stock market's trades. Management doesn't need you to play Chicken Little or Debbie Downer. Your CEO isn't going to say, "that paranoid young man, the one that's freaked out by the stock market, he's a good candidate for leadership!" Never.
If you start off conversations this week by chatting about 'this economy' - you are part of the problem, not part of the solution. You'll suck the energy out of everyone you talk to, and that's not being a leader. Remember what Napoleon said, "the leader's role is to define reality, then give hope."
If you can stay focused now, your work will rise to the top. Can you?
August 04, 2011
This is a question I posed to Sen John McCain a few weeks ago, as he sat captive-in-coach next to me on a flight to LA. For most of the flight, he read a novel (The Hypnotist) and likely dialed out of his predicament in Congress with the budget battle.
I read, then whipped out my laptop and answered emails at a breakneck pace. As we started to descend to LAX, McCain and I started a short, but interesting conversation. "I saw you pecking away furiously, looked like importance business," he quipped.
"Was answering my fan mail, which is as important to my soul as it is to my readers," I replied with dead-seriousness. I explained that I was a Buckaroo Banzai, so to speak, with several careers - one of which was as an author. To reinvigorate myself, I'd gather all reader or speaking 'fan mail' into a single folder and answer them in a single session - when I needed the extra motivation and inspiration. This flight was the middle of a seven day travel stretch (with one rare day back in LA to change out clothes, etc.). I was beat, and my fan mail from the new book or my last keynote offered me encouragement and purpose.
"How often do you read yours?" I asked. He looked puzzled and shrugged his shoulders. He explained that he was more likely to get ticked-off-citizen mails from his staffers. I insisted that he likely gets a lot of fan mail, that derserved more than a form answer. My promise to him was that if he took the time to read it and engage with his 'choir', he'd be lifted up emotionally and spiritually.
Here's the point. In all of our lives, we get 'fan mail'. Just think of it as written positive feedback: Thanks, you-made-a-difference, I'm influenced by your work, you are a good friend/colleague, etc. It trickles into our Inbox, sometimes in handwritten (classy) thank-you card format or even voice mails. What do you do with them? I suggest you collect them, and read/answer them as a therapeutic exercise.
Nope: Most of us, like McCain, are more likely to see the nasty grams that demand instant attention. We pore over them, and likely give them more weight in our mind. Fellow author/blogger Jon Acuff wonders why so many people ignore the choir, yet give their critics PhDs! We shrug off the praise-notes out of false humility and obsess over the daggers that pop out of the pile. Bad idea.
Starting now, I challenge all of you to collect all the positive feedback you get and periodically review it. This includes Thank You cards, reviews at work or on your products/services, email feedback on projects, everything that gives you insight into the difference you make. Never disrespect this pile of gratitude, as you'll find your future accomplishments there - along with your resevoir of Goodwill.
NOTE: We must always balance our Confidence (Humility VS Arrogance), and in no way am I suggesting we focus too much on our 'Greatness', lest we tip to the dark side of self-esteem. For more on how to find the balance, read Principle 6 from Today We Are Rich.
August 02, 2011
For example: In radio, the new mantra is to sell "solutions, not spot advertisements." Why? Spot ads are bought on price (cost per thousand), while solutions are paid for based on value-generated (savings, incremental sales). The difference is like Calamari VS Squid - commodity versus premium.
This is more true than ever, given the business cycle. In my experience, during the long-drawn-out recovery phase ("Is the recession over?), the good money flows to companies that are in the solutions business - providing measurable outcomes instead of 'inventory'.
NOTE: This is not a packaging issue - where you start calling your services solutions (eg., it's not a banner ad campaign, it's a launch solution package!). You are not in the features business, and it's not up to your customer to translate the delivery of your services into value - the solutions centric company does this organically, based on good sales discovery processes and judicious use of metrics on the back end to deliver CFO-friendly results.
While working at Yahoo as it's Chief Solutions Officer, I put together a crack team of solutions-centric sales engineers that participated in some of the biggest marketing deals in the company's history at the time. We went beyond the banner ad biz and entered into data driven efficiency, optimization and analystics work for movie studios, CPG companies, tech companies and retail.
Here's the DNA of a true solutions provider, be it a team member or a company culture:
1 - Curiousity: You must truly care about how your customer's business model works, how it comes to market and how the playing field has changed in the last few years. You should be as educated about these things as your customer, relentlessly investigating and probing for more information. Great solutions providers are first and foremost, problem finders (yeah, tweet that via @sanderssays)
2 - Agility: Once you uncover a problem, it's likely your products don't squarely address it off-the-shelf. Throw out the rate card, roll up your sleeves and build a new solution, even if it's not on the product roadmap. At Yahoo, we discovered that some of our customers needed better insight into purchase intention (to shore up their supply chain), so we got into the Search-Analytics business, leveraging our buzz index to help movie studio buy TV ads or gaming companies to optimize store inventory.
3 - Accountability: Measure the business impact of the solution, and not just how much product you shipped or hours you logged in. It's not a solution unless the client's finance leads say so! Compensate the team, in part, based on value-delivered and not just sales.
Yesterday I gave a talk to finance professionals about this concept, and you could hear the gears turning in the collective mind of the audience. There's real money in solutions-ville, but it will require a willingness to do some custom work and then figure out how it can scale. But if you get there, you'll be able to sell on value and not on price. And you'll respect yourself more too.