October 24, 2013
Last Saturday I was stranded in the Cartagena Colombia airport for almost six hours. I was not alone. Early that morning, the radar system at the Panama City airport went down, causing all flights in and out of it to be delayed. As it's the hub for the entire region, which meant that all travelers in Cartagena would wait in the gate lounge until the situation clears up.
By 3pm, we were all tense, tired and stressed out about our connections. The silence was deafening. Then, something magic happened. Members of the University of Richmond symphony whipped out their instruments, tuned them quickly, and launched into an impromptu concert for us.
Within seconds, the mood at the gate lounge was transformed from misery to ecstasy. At this moment, I realized that music is one of the most powerful forces in the world. It can soothe our soul and make us forget our problems. When they finished, there were smiles all around. People begin to strike up conversations with each other and by 4pm, we got the good news that the Panama City airport was back up and running. Many of us talked about the power of music and vowed to listen to more of it ... especially when we were stressed out during times of travel.
I shot a video of their first song. Note how loud the applause was, and how surprised they were at the positive feedback. VIDEO: THE AIRPORT LOUNGE SYMPHONY.Tweet
October 15, 2013
As I travel around the world to give speeches or to consult, I'm often asked about my experience working for Mark Cuban. While many are curious about what it was like to work for him, some dig deeper, asking for my opinion about his secret to success.
My answer is always the same: He understood how to build powerful customer relationships. Beginning with his first startup (MicroSolutions), he adopted a mantra: Make Love, Not War. I've met several of his former clients, and they've all remarked about how responsive he was to their needs, even when they seemed overly demanding. He'd personally visit their office, getting underneath desks if necessary to check wiring. He'd answer emails in the middle of the night without any grousing. It endeared him to customers who usually had to fight to get their value from solution providers.
When I went to work for him at AudioNet (later to become broadcast.com), he repeated this mantra often. He explained that too many companies often go to war with clients that don't easily fit into their value chain. Make money or war was their approach.
In Cuban's view, the secret to customer success was to find out what they liked, then give it to them consistently. He believed that a service provider needs to design their company around the customer's needs and wants. He didn't just talk this game, he lived it daily.
If there was a disagreement about the quality of our service, the customer was right and the invoice was torn up. If a customer felt slighted, he or she was welcome to contact Mark directly to resolve the issue. The culture of his startups was about being tuned into and responsive to the desires of the customer - and not the investors/owners.
That's why he retained customers even though he operated on the bleeding edge of technology, where failure was a commonplace occurance. In this sense, it works just like our personal relationships. If we make love, not war, we are often forgiven for our imperfections. Or as author Steve Farber once told me, "If you are an electrician, and your client loves you, you can burn down their house they they'll say 'accidents happen'!"
For more, read his book: How To Win At The Sport Of Business
October 10, 2013
A few years ago, I discovered a technique for overcoming stage fright. We all likely have to fight through nerves when making presentations, sales pitches or participating in meetings -- especially when the audience is tough or the stakes are high.
I've learned that our performance is a function of our thinking patterns, and in particular, the state of our subconcious mind. If we are confident, we can relax for easy power. If we are afraid, we are either too timid or inappropriately bombastic. Furthermore, the last thoughts we take to the stage ultimately frame our mood and outlook.
So what are your last thoughts before it's go-time? In this keynote excerpt, I share my fear-busting technique with a group of high performing sales people. While it seems like a simple plan, it requires one's imagination and determination to rise above the situation. Can you do this?
Reload A Success Experience For Total Confidence by Tim Sanders
October 08, 2013
It's that time of year for professional speakers, when we live out of suitcases and travel non-stop on the fall lecture circuit. A few weeks ago I reached a milestone: Ten flights in a single week. My travels took me to Chicago, Jackson Hole, Phoenix and Colorado Springs. I spent as much time in planes and airports as I did hotels and conference centers.
When I got home on Saturday night, I must admit, I was taxed from the multi-segment week. But I survived. As a seasoned road warrior, I had a plan for my 10 flight week. It worked as well as any plan works for a human going through this much stress and strain.
1. Plan Well So You Can Mosey -- The secret to a wall-to-wall week of travel is to take it easy. If you are constantly rushing around, the stress adds up quickly, and can take your health with it. I plan, double check the plans, and then rehearse them mentally during the weekend leading up to the trip. I leave padding in each segment of the schedule, which results in a little more gate time than I like, but it beats running through the airport. Whenever possible, when I arrive early enough to consider an earlier flight to my next destination, I put myself on the standby list.
2. Sit Towards the Front -- My favorite seat on a plane is the second row (behind the dreaded bulkhead seat) in the section. On American long haul flights, that's 9A (window). I don't get bumped when the plane is loading and I'm one of the first people off the plane. It makes a big difference.
3. Talk To People Sitting Next To You -- Sitting in silence makes flights longer, and the whole traveling experience more unbearable. I usually strike up a pleasant conversation either as we taxi out or better yet, when we are descending to our final destination. In many cases, I've made friends and valuable business contacts.
4. Don't Forget Your Health -- I never pass a water fountain in an airport. I eat oatmeal or simple eggs every morning before I board my first flight. I wash my hands whereever I can find hot water and soap. I program days to ensure 7 hours of sleep (I'll post something later on how I sleep well on the road). If you get run down, sick or dehydrated, the whole travel experience can turn on you quickly. When I get home from a long travel week, I rehab with a massage and plenty of good food and water.
What are your travel secrets for an action packed week? Share them in comments!Tweet
September 27, 2013
Earlier this year, I was sitting around a table of successful entrepreneurs, listening to them talk about lessons learned in startup world. One founder would soon sell his company for almost two hundred million dollars and the person sitting across from him had just successfully raised one hundred million bucks from Silicon Valley VCs. These two cats knew their stuff.
"If you could change anything about how you built your business, what would it be?" the recently funded CEO asked.
"I would have built culture from day one," replied the soon-to-be-swimming in dollars CEO. "Just like Tony did at Zappos, start with culture then layer on a strategy. If you wait until 20 people, it's probably too late. If you wait until 100 people, you'll need to clean house unless you've been very lucky in recruiting people that are naturally tuned into your values." Deep.
Last week, I gave a keynote at Foundercon, an annual leadership event for Tech Stars alumns. (If you haven't read Do More Faster, you should grab it right away.) Along with sharing my perspective from Love Is the Killer App, I talked to them about the critical importance of prioritizing the building of culture. My message was that when culture builds itself, the buildings look like silos - not a collaborative web.
I believe that culture is a conversation about "how we do things here." Most culture is centered on how team members relate to each other as well as the outside world. The leaders initiate the conversation, then punctuate it with action. They don't hire people that don't fit the culture and they reward the ones that do in succession planning. It's all done very publicly, often talked about and frequently marketing at a visual level. (Signs of "Done Is Better Than Perfect" were everywhere at young facebook.)
Whether you are starting a company, church or a team, if you want to lead, be on top of the conversation. The value of culture building lies in Henry Chesbrough's definition of the concept: "A set of values, properly expressed and enforced, that creates a system of social control." If the culture is strong, every team member knows exactly what to do, even when the leaders aren't there to tell them. If the culture is about transparency, information is disclosed when asked for. If it's about putting the customer first, then refunds with no questions asked are given by associates, even before it becomes a codified policy.
Here's the three keys to building culture, even with a small group:
1. Choose a few values that define the purpose of your business. Make sure they are based on helping people or solving their problems. Choose values you can get a teenager and a grand parent excited about. HINT: "Maximizing shareholder returns" is a really lame value statement. Sounds like a corporate conglomorate, which is fine for investors...but they are gone after they write the check...you need talent, partners and fans.
2. Adopt rituals to promote your values, and integrate them into the fabric of your group. Not just signs or placards, you need to plan events or choreograph group behavior around values. If you value collaboration, have a Friday beer bust and be mindful of messaging. If you value customer experience, host an annual gathering of them to open your ears and iterate. Saturn automobile used this ritual to build relationships with customers, and at the same time, to cement their values around creating a wow experience for customers.
3. Use these values to make hiring, budgetary, firing and rewards decision. If you are working at an established company, but fear that you need to re-build culture -- you'll likely need to let a few people go that don't fit. Words may resonate, but actions motivate others to buy-in.
What are your organization's values? How are you driving them into the conversation? Would love to hear about it in comments.Tweet
September 20, 2013
Great networkers share one attribute: Generosity. They put people together that "should meet" for the love of helping others and NOT to generate social debt. They derive delight from knowing their networking efforts are multiplying value in others.
This is perhaps one of the hardest things to grasp as a networker. Often, we've been socialized to think that networking is an exchange of value. Like trading baseball cards. The problem is that it doesn't usually work out that way. When you make a valuable introduction, there isn't always a quid-pro-quo available. So you wait.
Then later, when your intro has turned into a bona fide opportunity, it's easy to internally expect something out of it, or even worse, ask for a piece of the action. That's bad for two reasons: First, it sets you up for disappointment. Often people can't pay you pack, don't pay you back or pay it forward to someone else. If you've been expecting something, your disappointment will inhibit you next time a networking opportunity presents itself.
When you ask for something in return, you are no longer a networker. You are a people-broker. It usually makes other feel pressured, offended or put off. Sometimes we subtly present the match-making bill by asking, "so how did that introduction pan out?" The mere follow up shows that we are tracking it, and can put subtle pressure on your networkee to somehow offer something up in return.
So connect others, get out of the way, and pretend it never happened. This will differentiate you to others, and show them you only have their best interests at heart. It will also ensure that you can continue to do it for the rest of your life, without becoming jaded.
Finally, suppose that your networkee, out of a sense of gratitude, offers to do something for you in return. This happens a lot. You agree to make an important connection, and your beneficiary says, "And I can help you too..."
It's easy to go with it, working out a trade in real-time. But you are getting distracted from the task at hand when you do that! Stay focused on making this connection. Say this instead: "If this works out, all I ask is that you do the same for someone in the future. I just want to help you, and I want nothing in return."
It will likely baffle most, and in many cases will be a refreshing source of surprise and delight. Over time, you'll build up a lot of trust that way, and your network will explode with serendipitous introductions from others think quite warmly of you.
For more: The Elmer Letterman StoryTweet
September 13, 2013
This Tuesday, I had the pleasure of being the opening keynote at the Cultivate Fox Cities conference in Neenah, Wisconsin. What a great community of business professionals! They exhibit a set of mid-western values including a put-people-first mindset, a long view and pride driven tenacity.
Stanley Marcus Jr. counseled me to share my knowledge when and wherever I can, especially if I think it can add value. He told me there was a side-benefit that would help me greatly over my career: Feedback. He told me, "You'll never get dumber by trying to make someone else smarter." He's right too. When I speak at events like this, my talking points get feedback and often, my future talks are enriched by them.
At the Cultivate event, my talk (The Power Of Great Relationships) was based on the idea that we should share our knowledge and our network with people we do business with to "multiply their value." This is the secret to sustainable success and real business power.
1. Share Knowledge: I propose always having a mentee, which you select because he or she is going places and you know something that can help them. Beth, a local award winning mentor, told me afterwards that prior to engaging with her mentees, she gives them an outline of what they'll cover and when. She often gives it to them in writing, in advance of their first real engagement. "It's a curriculum, and you should expect them to follow it," she explained. Good point.
2. Share Your Network: I believe that we should introduce three people every week that should meet. To do that, I advised my audience to reverse the conversation when meeting new people (at events, on the job, etc.). Instead of seeing if they can help you or if they have status, we instead, screen their life situation to see if we've got network contacts to offer them.
Steve, a new entrepreneur just a few years out of college, approached me after the talk to tell me about how difficult it is to "break in to networking" when it's hard to figure out who new contacts really need to meet. He also said that if you have a small network, you need to look for a friend-of-a-friend contact if you want to add value. "I think good networkers ask good questions," he told me. It's not like casual conversation yields a list of "gotta meet" people. So asking, "What do you do?" may be an unproductive ice breaker. Instead, he's been taking a page from Never Eat Alone, opening conversations with "What are you you working on that you are excited about?"
Plussing with him, I suggested we can delve into the networking dig even = deeper with "And who do you need to meet to get there?" Or, "Are their any hurdles? What will it take to jump over them?"
Expect more trip reports in the future. Next week, I'm giving a keynote at TechStars' annual FounderCon conference. I'll be talking about Putting People First to 350+ startup founders. I'm certain they'll give me a lot of feedback too...Tweet
September 10, 2013
The abundance mentality comes from your belief that there is enough to share. It drives your success in both business and life. Without it, you possess the scarcity mindset, a primal way of seeing the world. While racked with scarcity-think, you'll hoard what you have, be jealous of those who are doing well and repel opportunities from your life.
I believe that the abundance mentality is MUCH more driven by our environment than our personality. All things being equal, kids are natrually generous with each other. Over time, based on their context and experiences, they either maintain that perspective or trade it in on the scarcity mindset.
These days, it's pretty easy to create an environment that induces scarcity-think. You turn on the news, and they bang the drums of gloom, doom and despair. You hang out with people that declare the sky is falling. You surf social media sites, often being drawn into bad-news or tragedies of the day.
In Vegas, there's a prevailing idea: Keep the betters at the table long enough and the house wins. This works the same for you: Keep eating negative information and eventually the forces of Scarcity win the battle for your mind. And you stop giving, loving and caring. You adopt unnatractive personality traits like envy and selfishness. You compete when you should be collaborating.
How do you avoid this? FEED YOUR MIND GOOD STUFF. You should be as careful about what you put into your head as you are about what you put into your mouth. You should avoid all types of media that are designed to grab your attention VS those designed to feed your mind helpful information. If you'd like my entire system of Good Mind Food, download this free chapter from Today We Are Rich.
One last idea: Your mind's breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Don't load up on info-carbs like your email Inbox, social media and TV news. Instead, spend a 1/2 hour or so reading out of a book that expands your mind, makes you better at your job or gives you a glimpse into the future.
Norman Mailer called his morning reading ritual "combing his brain." That's a great way to think about what it takes to stay positive, confident and generous.
For more, check out Mojo Rising: Get Out Of Scarcity Thinking on Vimeo.Tweet
September 04, 2013
It's a magical time of year where we are both busy, and at the same time, compelled to observe the conventions of holiday. September and October for many of you will be the busiest months you've had since spring. November is a wild card and December is just a tattered mess of potential workdays without interruption.
I call this the Fall 100 Day Dash. Between today and the end of the year, you have about 100 days to accomplish your annual goals. As an effective person who doesn't hit the snooze button of life or work, you want to achieve your goals to have a clean slate going into the next year. So here are my bits of advice:
1. Identify What Is Made Of Rubber VS What Is Made Of Glass - Too often, we have several end-of-the-year goals. Trying to attain all of them can lead to meeting none of them. For example, if you are in sales, you likely have an annual goal. But at the same time, you are trying to close the IBM account as a goal as well. The annual goal is likely made of glass, something that breaks if dropped. The IBM account, so long as it's not tied to your annual goal, may very well be able to bounce into Q1 2014. If you can, identify the most brittle made-of-glass goal and focus solely on it.
2. Think In Two Week Spurts - Don't try and even out the year, plucking your way around the holiday season. Define open two-week windows and cram your calendar with efforts towards the made-of-glass goal. During the partial weeks (they start piling up by the 3rd week of November), work on the made-of-rubber items and maintenance work. Give yourself a breathing day if possible during those partial weeks, because you are JAMMING otherwise.
3. Reserve the Last Two Weeks Of December For 2014 Planning - It's too easy to get caught up in next-year-plans as early as November. For too many, Halloween represents a turning point where we write off this year, and look forward to the next. While that might be stock market thinking, you need all three effective weeks of November to get to the finish line.
4. Forgive Yourself When You Come Up Short - Goals are usually made up, arbitrarily picked to motivate us and give us something measurable to work towards. If you've done your job prioritizing and sprinted as best you can...when the December holidays bring down the curtain on 2013, give yourself a break. Like everyone does, you need the holiday season to refresh for the coming year. It's a long cold winter until Easter, and tenacity comes from rest and reflection. Don't kill yourself over the Christmas-New Year's week trying to close that last deal, finish that last project or turn in the last report. In my experience, that's weak sauce work and in too many cases it imposes on others' attempts to enjoy their holiday season.
What are your tricks to being productive at year's end? Share them in comments!Tweet
August 28, 2013
Challenge conventional wisdom. There is almost always a better way— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) August 10, 2013
I connected with what he was saying, and how important it is for us to progress past "what's been working so far." Too many leaders (and their manager minions) challenge new ideas, where offering up a new way is like playing whack-a-mole...where the creative thinker is the mole!
One editor at a highly prestigious publication responded to Mark, of course, with an edit: "Sometimes." His point, I guess, was that conventional wisdom is usually tried-and-true to the situation since it is, ahem, convention. But his response also echoes the sentiments of leaders everywhere. The Status Quo doesn't have an image problem. It believes that only rarely is "the new way" the best solution.
These are the new battle lines: Almost Always VS Sometimes. The Almost Always leader (a new way is Almost Always better) believes that we should constantly question how things are done and what's worked up until now. They are vigilant when it comes to being ahead of the curve. They like to hire (younger) smart people, who've shown that they can think outside the lines when stuck pursuing a worthy goal. The Almost Always leader creates a culture where innovation is king, and agility is a habit and not just a response to crisis.
The Sometimes leader (a new way is Sometimes better) believes that there should be a presumption against change. They are quick to trot out historical turkeys when faced with a challenge to convention--especially if it comes in the form of a novel idea, which requires a change in the rules. They like to hire people with quotable resumes, a willingness to fit in and a tendency to support the system above all else. The Sometimes leader creates a culture where process is king, and the top goal is to "not blow it" or to "let the cowboys take over."
Guess which company is RIM/Blackberry VS which company is Google? Guess which company is Tesla VS which company is GM? Guess which company is Facebook VS which company is Kodak?
The cycle of disruption is getting tighter every year, where conventional wisdom transmutes into head-in-the-sand thinking. What worked like a charm a few years ago, clunks along in last place today where the consumer is more mobile, agile and hostile to his grandfather's solution.
Even if you have an Almost Always leadership style, that doesn't mean you are creating an anything goes culture. In the case of Google, it's mantra was "Do Epic Shit". There are still many steps that a new way must take to get from the whiteboard to the field. It has to find a tribe. Then it needs legal or the department of comportment to sign off. Then it usually needs money, and often, cannibalization of an existing cash calf (which used to be the cash cow). Those "gates" often shut down new ideas even in the most innovative cultures.
But at least, if the presumption was in favor of a new way, your leadership style just might create a climate where your talents bring their ideas to work, and fight for the company to stay relevant. If you have a Sometimes leadership style, that's one gate too many for almost any new idea to get through. If your presumption is for the Status Quo, your company doesn't have a chance ... barring throwing out its leadership ... to compete for the future.
This jives with what I've learned from author Bill Jensen (Disrupt!): "Your company isn't disrupted. Your eco-system is disrupted by a more agile culture." And when the culture smells stale, that fish stinks from the head!Tweet