June 24, 2014
Most people I know sabotage their career by being to efficient with their time. They fill up their daily schedule with meetings and phone calls, thinking that they are being highly productive. The result is a week of conversations, with little time left to "work on work."
A recent IBM survey of over 1000 CEO's found that creativity was the top skill required for leadership success. This makes sense, as innovation is the prescription for dealing with a highly disruptive business environment. Technology, media, globalization all come together to put creative demands on leaders and manager everywhere.
The problem is, creative thinking requires a lot of white space on your calendar. It's not something you can schedule or squeeze in on a long flight or a Sunday afternoon. Filmmaker David Lynch believes that "It takes four hours to get one hour of creative work done." By that he means that we must enter into a problem consideration mode for extended periods of time to induce free association...which leads to innovative business solutions.
But if your calendar is full of every call request and meeting invitation that comes your way, you won't have any time to think. This is why I block out two hours of unscheduled time daily to work on my projects, research problems, white board solutions and passively think creatively while doing low mental-requirement tasks. It's in these gaps where our breakthroughs occur.
As a leader, you aren't paid to meet or talk to others. You are paid to think. Einstein, Edison and Jobs put their feet up on their desk or took long walks to actively consider solutions – and that's where their eureka moments happened.
Make every meeting and calendar item fight for its life. Pick the ones that are truly business drivers. Limit your "getting to know you" lunches and out-of-office meetings to one a week and make them count! If you find enough time during your most fruitful mental states (M-F days), you'll achieve the creative breakthroughs you need to make your mark.Tweet
May 29, 2014
The concept of mentor first appeared in Homer's Odyssey, and since then has grown into a widely talked about concept. Many of us seek mentors, especially during the beginning of our career. Many of us act as mentors, helping others on their journey to greatness.
What I've learned through my mentorship practice is that not all engagements are the same. There are three distinct flavors:
Pick your mentees wisely. Don't promise what you can't deliver. The best time to deliver Flash Mentorship is when the opportunity presents itself. Carpe Diem! In many cases, you start out as a Flash Mentor and over time, you take on either Program or Life Long mentees.
All of us should practice one flavor of mentorship every single week. If you haven't found the opportunity, you either aren't looking hard enough OR you aren't feeding your mind enough to share.Tweet
April 02, 2014
These days, it's believed that the youth have all the advantages when it comes to technology. They start companies like facebook in their 20's, run television shows and represent true progress. Companies I work with talk about "aging down" their workforce, so they can stay nimble.
The reality is that youth is a state of mind, not a counting of years. In my experience, the secret to eternal youth is lifelong learning...the constant expansion of one's resume of experiences and insights. Henry Ford once quipped, "Anyone who stops learning becomes old, whether at twenty or at eighty. Anyone that keeps learning stays young."
His point has to do with the constant stimulation of our brain, which in turn drives our creativity and agility. And these days, to be successful in business, you must possess both of those qualities in spades.
Here's the point: If you aren't expanding your resume every year, you are likely being getting lapped in the sport of business by those that do. You can improve a resume without changing jobs. You can add areas of expertise or new areas of project work. You can add volunteer work, hobbies or interests. You can add professional associations you've joined and contributed to. All of these additions give your career a sense of momentum, which gives you the confidence to embrace change.
My point is more salient for those reading this post born in my generations (Boomer and Echo Boomer). We become very comfortable with our titles, our financial stability and our status. We study on a need-to-learn basis, gathering expertise just-in-time. To take on electives at this stage in life seems a waste ... and could cut into our fun time watching sports, buying stuff or talking about people.
That's why we are so threatened by the youth. They come out of college or self-study, read voraciously and knowledge network with others that have the mutual thirst for knowledge. They have better instincts. They pivot without fear until they get their experiments right. They look at us with disdain, wondering why we don't 'get it'.
Meanwhile, we browse trade journals and newspapers, the career development equivalent of doing crossword puzzles. And we wait for retirement and beyond. And we get lapped with every revolution of the business cycle.
Here's my prescription: Read at least six books a year that bolster your domain expertise and add one new area of insight to your arsenal. Join a relevant trade association and pursue certifications, especially those that require intense study and networking. Raise your hand for a project at work that will stretch you out of your intellectual comfort zone.Tweet
March 18, 2014
This note is for generous networkers that like to use email to glue together people that should meet. In my first book, Love is the Killer App, I call this the 3-Way-Email technique. It helps networkers make more connections than they can by arranging conference calls or meetings.
Over the last decade I've been on both ends of this treatment. Sometimes I'm the person emailing two or more people to connect them and more recently, I've been the beneficiary of someone helping me out over email. It's given me a bird's eye view of what works and doesn't work with this technique. While email intros are fast, most of them end up treated like spam.
In most cases, unless the networker writes a very good email to introduce everyone...nothing happens. This is especially true when a PowerPerson is introduced via email to a ProspectivePartner. Unless the networker originating this connection sells the PowerPerson on replying, the email is usually ignored or deleted. The ProspectivePartner sometimes replies-to-all with a "thank you" and then suggests that a call be set up. But again, if the sales job to the PowerPerson is weak, nothing happens. That's even true when the networker and the PowerPerson are good friends or close business associates.
Here's a better way to use email to connect two or more people, especially with one or more of them are very busy or in high demand:
Here's an example:
Subject: Introducing Mark Carter to John Chen to create the ultimate ChiTown BizGame!
Body of email:
Mark, by way of email, meet John Chen AKA "Big Kid". He's an expert in the area of team building through gamification and well connected in Seattle. He's also fun, creative and gets things done. I told him about you, and what you are accomplishing in Chicagoland, and he wants to meet you. PS - both of you are heavily involved in your regional MPI chapters, so you have lots to talk about.
John, by way of email, meet Mark Carter AKA CarterOfChicago. He's one of the biggest people/opportunity connectors in the area and a true Lovecat as well. He's well connected with several companies that might love your game tech as well as your personality. Follow up with him and setup a call to get to know each other.
I think the two of you might open up a new market for gamification of team-building. I also think you'll likely spark a friendship. You know I don't make these intros often, so consider it a call to action!Tweet
February 28, 2014
For many of you, the last recession put you into survival mode. This is especially true if you are in banking, financial services, construction, retail or automotive. Those industries were hit so hard, all growth plans had to take a back seat.
Shrinking expenses was the order of the day.
As long as we continue to watch cable news (CNBC, etc.) or let the doomsdayers continue to beat the drums of double dip or next-bubble, we'll stay in neutral, letting our competitors pass us by.
Here's my analogy: A downturn is like a car crash during a NASCAR race. The yellow caution flag comes out, we all coast in the same position. At some point the green flag is waved and everyone scrambles for the lead.
Here's where business turns out differently: The "game on" flag is invisible, just like the hand of the market that Adam Smith wrote about. Some leaders see it early and others see it too late. In 2009, a New Yorker article (Hanging Tough) isolated some of the great leaps in history that were made by companies that got back to growth, innovation and employee development before their competitors. When they saw the green flag, just as the worst of the crash was over, they hit the gas. Kraft, Kellogg's, Hyundai and Apple are all examples of this phenomenon.
Here's a news flash for you: The recession is over. The run up is on. If you wait for any more of a clear sign, the next downturn may be upon you and there's nothing left in your tank. It's time for you to think about growing your business, buying companies and investing heavily in your talent.
As one leader recently told me, "By the time you realize you should have been focusing on growth, it's too late. Your competitors have been doing it long enough to build up not only a lead, but barriers to you being able to draft on their success."Tweet
February 12, 2014
Recently, I was booked to give the closing keynote at an annual corporate meeting for an industry leader. Their CEO had a vision for the meeting: Create A Mindset Where Winning Is the Only Acceptable Outcome. She picked me because I'd worked at a company (Yahoo) that famously developed this outlook, then lost it over time.
I was intrigued by this assignment, and immediately thought of lessons learned from studying Paul Galvin of Motorola (video clip from one of my talks about him). Researching post-Galvin case studies led me to A.G. Lafley's days at Procter and Gamble and ultimately his book, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works.
Lafley believes that strategy is "an integrated set of choices about how to win in the marketplace." In other words, strategy is not about accomplishing a certain task or reaching a certain goal. Those are tactics. Being strategic is about making the hard choices to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage in the eyes of customers.
He's got an attitude about leaders that see it any other way. He picks on companies like Saturn, a GM division, that was 'Playing for the sake of playing.' They never intended on beating the Japanese at their game. They just wanted to sell cars in 'the low end of the market,' so Saturn was created. They were not resourced to outperform Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Kia or Hyundai, and eventually, the division was shuttered.
He's even harder on leaders that Play To Survive. In his view, "a company must seek to win in a particular place and in a particular way. If it doesn't seek to win, it is wasting the time of its and the investments of its capital providers." He's right too. Around 2003, I witnessed the Yahoo culture shift from winning to "hanging in there". This was the beginning of the sideways years for the company. We watched competitors like Google leapfrog us with moonshots (Google Earth), while we played it safe by incrementally improving products (Click To Print Map).
Over and over again, Lafley stresses the choices leaders must make in their strategy. The first choice is 'What is our winning aspiration?' which leads to a cascade of choices which build on each other.
I like this cascade (based on the work of Michael Porter, one of Lafley's mentors). It starts with our aspiration or purpose, which according to Jim Collins, should be audacious. Lafley points out that "too many companies eventually die a death of modest aspirations." They made modest choices that the beginning of the strategy cascade, which then led to market-mediocrity.
Then, the second strategic choice is location - where are we going to win? This narrows the market, sometimes to a specific niche where a true winning opportunity lies. Narrowing the market is a hard choice for many, making it even more strategic. But to narrow the market is to narrow the scope of competition as well - making it easier to win.
The next difficult choice has to do with our weapons in the market, the sources of our competitive advantage. In Lafley's view, they need to relate to the perceived value the company delivers to its most important customers. Then, the next choice is about which resources need to be marshaled to deliver that competitive advantage over time. Finally, choices about management systems are made to ensure a high degree of operating excellence. This is a great exercise for any business leader or entrepreneur thinking through their strategy. Each choice is limiting, and serves to give the company a true sense of focus.
One of his stinging points is that "Too many leaders define strategy as the optimization of the status quo." In his view, this leads to sameness, which is not a strategy but "a recipe for mediocrity."
To Lafley's cascade, I added a six element: How Do We Close Value Gaps? This is based on the work of Sandra Vandermerwe in her book Customer Capitalism. Stanley Marcus Jr. told me about this book back in 1999 when he was sharing a case study about the Mercedes Smart Car launch in Europe.
The idea is that you can't lock in a customer anymore with contracts or proprietary technology. Your efforts to do so have decreasing returns over time. The key to winning over time is to get the customer to lock on to your company that solving all their problems in the activity space. For Mercedes' Smart car launch, the activity space they focused on was short haul mobility. The car was designed for trips up to about 100 kilometers at most. For such a specific activity focus, there are obviously value gaps that they need to close: Repair, Renting a bigger car, Insurance, Maintenance and so on.
Here's the idea: Each value gap is an opportunity for a competitor to enter your customer's life and steal them. If you've rented a car at Avis, for example, you likely drove a GM product such as a Malibu or an Impala. If you drive another brand, that's an example of a value gap they didn't close, which might lead you to switch later. Mercedes anticipated this in their strategy, so they provided rental car services to close that gap.
For my keynote, I used a more contemporary example from the medical care industry. For Baxter Healthcare's Renal Bag product line, they built a strategy around the activity space of maintaining kidney health. As they built a wining strategy, they realized that the customer has pre-during-post needs. Up until then, they only played in the 'during' phase, where their bags were part of treatment.
From pre-treatment advice to post-treatment therapy, Baxter had value gaps a competitor could drive a truck through - dropping off samples of a competitive core product. So the team built or partnered their way into an airtight approach to the market, which served the activity space with their product serving as a piece of the puzzle and not a commodity.
My audience was intrigued and provoked into action at the same time. Several focused on choice #2 (where do we win?) and #6 (how do we close value gaps?) as key questions to answer quickly in order to protect their winning hand.
My closing words echoed Lafley's perspective: If you are not playing to win, at best case, you are losing a little more each day. It's a matter of tough choices about the things that matter ... to the customer.
December 11, 2013
I've been working on a new book now for the last few months. In between other stuff in my life. When I get a moment or carve out a few hours. I guess that means I'm just grazing on it. Sure, I could slap a self-imposed deadline on writing it (or better yet, the detailed book proposal). But that's a deadline to be massaged, moved or even missed.
Why not? What's the real downside to missing the deadline?
I've published four books through major publishers, and when working with them, my writing schedule was locked around a drop-dead-miss-your-pubdate-get-in-trouble due date for the manuscript. Three out of four times, I handed it in on time, as the result of significant effort on my part and a compliant calendar. One of the times, I knew I was getting behind, so I asked for (and received) an extension which I met.
I didn't have a choice. Miss their deadlines, face big repercussions. Let others down. That's really the secret to making your dream project really see the light of day. Outside pressure from someone that cares about the outcome and believes in YOUR dream. So here's how to line up your dreams with deadlines to achieve your goals.
Choose your dream. Never confuse an assignment with a calling.
Find partners to pursue it with you. If you can't get someone excited enough to invest time or money into it, it may be a small dream that's not worth your time.
Meet their deadline, based on their return-on-investment requirements or needs.
Your dream//Their deadline. This is a motivational match made in heaven for all you big thinkers. You know that a goal is 'a dream with a deadline' and now you now how to source both.
Have an idea for an app? Get someone on board to invest in it, and then follow his or her delivery deadlines. Think they have unrealistic expectations? Choose partners that are smart, reasonable and truly excited about your vision. But let their needs create a rock solid deadline you can't miss.
Want to launch a new career? Make a significant move (quit your job, sell your house, sign up for courses) and let the economics deal you deadlines. In this case, you've convinced your family or bet the farm on the move -- and you have to follow through! It's the difference between ham and eggs. The chicken is involved, but the pig is fully committed.
I know that many of you are confident that you can assign a due date to your dreams, be they a book or a product or a company. But in 90% of the cases I've come in contact with, those deadlines faded away and life got busy or the excitement wore off. That's why I doubt I'll ever self-publish a book or start a business without an investor. <Note: I deeply respect all self-pub'd authors' tenacity.>
To get back on track, I'm going to polish a proposal, sign with a new publisher and march to a deadline that meets their pub date. Otherwise, I'll still be working on my new book this time next year.
I need the structure, the support and the collaboration of shared risk. And likely, so do you. You'll find the external pressure something that gives your energy, focus and helps you reach...your goals.Tweet
November 22, 2013
Each one of us is part of a network of relationships, where we serve as a resource for each other. We protect, promote and inform each other. We advise, connect and encourage each other. It's a support base that can help you overcome extreme adversity or complete a moonshot project.
We do not inherent these networks, nor do they appear like magic for the chosen few. It's not a legacy or a lottery. We build them, like homes, one brick at a time. Sometimes, if we ignore a network node, his or her support levels wane. When we invest in a relationship with someone in our network, our synergies and mutual support grows.
Ignore or invest. While this reads like a simple choice, where the no-brainer is the latter, we don't act like it. In our face paced go-go life, we often finish our work weeks, ignoring our personal networks unless prodded by mutual opportunities. If we don't plan for it, our chances to make new connections or add value are occasional.
If you want to build up a strong support system and widen your world, carve out a minimum of 4 hours every week for relationship development. Put four one hour blocks on your calendar. During each block you can:
1. Mentor people via phone calls or email. They present themselves to you with questions, problems or requests for help. Do some homework. Send some help. Solve some problems.
2. Make helpful introductions. Connect people that should meet via phone or email. Keep a running list of "should meets" on your phone. Always be building introductions. Accomplish three connections per week.
3. Reconnect with dormant connections. According to Adam Grant in Give Or Take, they will be glad to hear from you and will possess a unique perspective and set of experiences. That's the value of catching up!
4. Give encouragement or say thanks. Send out thank you cards. Be on the look out for friends in need and deliver encouragement high touch (phone, face to face).
Don't relegate this exercise to your weekends, evenings or free time. It's a real business investment that's right up there with long meetings, hour long status calls and TPS reports. Surely, you can find five wasted hours in your current biz-life that's a weaker investment than your support network!
In just a few months, you'll see a change in your business ecosystem. More opportunities will suddenly appear in your Inbox. Complex problems will be solved with just a few phone calls, instead of countless hours. You'll eventually realize that investing in your network is a way to save time, and extend your horizons.Tweet
November 15, 2013
Fear is often cast as a bad thing, never to be fed or encouraged. But that is an oversimplification. Fear comes in many flavors, driven by its source. Some sources are healthy, some are illusionary and others are destructive. That’s right, some fears are quite healthy for your sense of balance.
Fear is the acknowledgement of a formidable threat and substantial stakes. If you don’t really think it can hurt you, you aren’t afraid. If it doesn’t matter, you can sluff it off as a casual concern. If you lack ANY fear, in many situations, you aren’t dealing with reality or you are overconfident. By recognizing the constructive fears, you’ll find proper direction.
For example, when consultants or journalists asked former Yahoo CEO Tim Koogle ‘what kept him up at night’ in 1999, he would reply, ‘two college kids in an apartment, tapping out code that will disrupt the industry.’ In other words, he feared irrelevance. It was a legitimate fear too, as Google was being hatched on the Stanford campus at that exact time.
On the other hand, I’ve worked for several CEOs that put more of their energy against the fear of failure. They worried that the proposed product might not sell well, giving them a black eye to investors. They worried that shifting to the new technology platform might lead to downtime, alienating legacy customers. Were these fears legit? In all situations, the greatest risk wasn’t a botched release or a short outage in services. It was competitive innovation.
The best way to manage fear in your life is to prioritize them by their legitimacy and urgency. The healthiest fear for a modern day business leader is obsolescence. As Koogle pointed out to me, “for every company that goes down due to a few bad product SKUs or sloppy accounting, there are nineteen that die a sudden death because their customers flee to the new-new thing.”
Takeaway: Your fear of getting lapped in the marketplace should be the one you pay attention to and lose sleep over. If you want to be a modern day innovator, your fear of obsolescence should be greater than your fear of failure.
What do you do with these fears? Face the worst case, and resolve to do better than it. Deploy resources to overcome its source (competitive innovation). Talk about it as a burning platform to your colleagues.
For more, watch this video clip from 2005 where I share Tim Koogle's insights and the Paul Galvin story. "Do not fear mistakes. Wisdom comes from them!"Tweet
November 07, 2013
It's only three weeks until Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays. Most years, we huddle up with family and friends, and give thanks for the bounties in our life. In too many cases, we are thankful for stuff: home, possessions, luxuries. In some cases, we are thankful for the people in our lives. That's when it has the greatest impact on our psyche.
In Today We Are Rich, I wrote that gratitude is a muscle that we need to exercise often. Otherwise, we get spiritually flabby, lose our gratefulness and nosedive in our relationship lives. This applies to work as much as it does our personal life, too.
So here's a simple exercise you can give your gratitude muscle over the next few weeks: Buy a box of Thank You cards (nice collection here). Create a list of professional connections that have made a real contribution to you or your work over the last year. Write a short note in each card, itemizing what he or she contributed, and what it has meant to you. Send the card so that it arrives the week of Thanksgiving. Your entire investment will run you less than $30, including postage.
Do not take any shortcuts here. Don't send an emails or an electronic cards to save time/money. They don't have nearly the impact as a real card that you've signed with a pen. Don't limit giving the cards to those that report to you or work side-by-side with you. Find people that might be surprised by your gratitude, yet deserve it for their contributions.
This exercise is inpsired by my friend Brian Palmer, who has surprised me on many occasions with a thoughtful Thank You card. When I've told him what a classy move it was, I could sense that he got just as much out of the exercise as I did. And now I know why.
The whole experience will force you to turn up your noticing knob, trying to locate the recipients for the 20 Thank You cards in your box. The act of writing a short note to each person on your list will cause you to recollect the times when he or she was there for you, and it will fill you with positive feelings.
Like any work related gratitude exercise, the experience will also drive something deep into your perspective: You are not alone. There are people in your life that are helping you, supporting you and caring about your future. This will bolster your sense of confidence about your future, knowing that you are not in it alone.
You'll also see your mood lifted and your behavior influenced by the process. One taxi driver I met in Denver told me that he was taught to believe that gratitude is a compound word: Gracious + Attitude. He's right too. When you are dialed into what people are doing for you, your ability to bounce back from life's little obstacles will be greatly enhanced.
Check out this video from Soul Pancake, which demonstrates the emotional benefits of expressing gratitude:Tweet