Knowledge is not a differentiator

Knowledge isn’t automatically power either.

Today, all one needs is access to the internet to be able to “know” almost anything, practically instantaneously.

Many companies have all sorts of data, and whether they label it “Big” or not, it’s completely meaningless without useful action.

Many people are extremely well-educated, but they leave the world without having made a mark.

I know, as just one small example, that my holding on to a resentment is not only pointless–at least until Elon Musk invents a time machine–it also only serves to make me miserable. Do I act on that knowledge consistently? Hardly.

Knowledge is becoming closer to a commodity literally every single day. Chances are if you don’t know something it’s because you don’t want to–consciously or otherwise.

Companies confuse data with insight all the time.

Many non-profits are particularly good at exposing the world to a raft of research and “findings” apparently content that, once society is made aware of something, lasting change is just a simple step away.

Plenty of organizations, big and small, secular or otherwise, try to win on the notion that they know something others don’t and rest safely on the strength of their set of facts and convictions. Individuals are hardly immune from this way of thinking. I’m most certainly not. #self-righteous.

To what end?

Awareness is critical, but it only creates an opening.

Knowledge is important, but it’s just the start.

Acceptance of reality merely forms the foundation for progress.

He who dies with the most facts does not win.

The difference that matters–the shift–is revealed in our actions: the leap, the willingness to be vulnerable, the stepping down from the stands into the arena, the abandonment of creeds in favor of deeds.

The difference isn’t in the knowing, it’s in the doing.

Ask the nearest hippie

In his dissent on the Supreme Court’s historic decision on gay marriage Justice Antonin Scalia offered this:

“Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality (whatever that means) were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think that Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.”

Regardless of where one stands on the question–and I stand firmly on the side of love–we should be impressed by Scalia’s ability to reach back some 50 years for a cultural reference, all the while doing virtuosic leaps of logic. Then again, perhaps he meant “hipster.” Also perhaps his marriage of 48 years ain’t going all that well. Maureen, you are in my thoughts and prayers.

But whether he meant hippie or hipster, he may be on to something.

Hippies defied convention.

Hippies valued love over war.

Hippies created lots of music and art that has stood the test of time.

Hippies were inclusive.

Hippies challenged the status quo, often pushing society to embrace new norms.

Many hippies were far more remarkable than those who shunned them.

Maybe we could use a few more hippies?

Ask the nearest hippie indeed.

And we just might want to heed their advice.

Why we don’t know why

If you are anything like me, whether it’s in your personal or professional life, you have a list of goals you seek to achieve.

And if you are anything like me, you don’t always achieve them. Which begs the question: why?

Sometimes the answer is painfully obvious. Other times it takes more work. Yet, I am struck by how often, whether it’s my own stuff, interactions with friends and colleagues or issues my clients are struggling with, the answer is “I don’t know.”

Why are we losing share to the competition? I don’t know.

Why isn’t our social media strategy working? I don’t know.

Why am I working harder and harder and getting less accomplished? I don’t know.

Why does an innocuous statement by my partner, make me instantly defensive? I don’t know.

It seems to me there are a few reasons why we don’t why.

Sometimes, no matter how hard we dig, it’s simply unknowable. I’d put the “God” type questions in this bucket.

Sometimes, we haven’t dug deeply enough. If it’s important, if we make it a priority, more work–or perhaps a radically different approach–stands a pretty good chance of unlocking the root cause.

Sometimes, if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, we don’t want to know the answer. We’re afraid of being confronted with the harsh reality of our situation. We fear being seen for who we really are or having to acknowledge that we aren’t a victim. Accepting accountability and seeing that the only road is difficult and scary is often to great a burden to bear, much less wake up to and own.

Of course it’s pretty easy to go through life blissfully ignorant, to avoid an honest look in the mirror.

Until it isn’t.

Our place among the righteous 

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I’m right. A lot. A scary percentage, in fact. It’s freakish.

Don’t believe me? Just check out my Facebook feed. Climate change, racial injustice, same-sex marriage rights, the Confederate flag, gun control reform, the clown car of Republican presidential candidates; you name it, I’m on it. And with just the right blend of moral outrage, witty sarcasm and re-postings from The Onion.

There’s also a pretty good chance my spirituality is superior to yours because, well, there is this thing called science and I’m not afraid of it. And while the rest of you swim in your sea of hypocrisy and try to sort out why God’s plan sometimes includes plane crashes, church shootings and finding the perfect match for you on, I’m safe in my cocoon of Zen-inspired and New Age aphorisms.

Now, at the risk of overkill–and securing my place in the pantheon of moral superiority–I feel compelled to tell you what an awesome driver I am. How anyone manages to stay sane, much less alive, amidst the idiots that the State grants a driver’s license to, I cannot fathom. Regardless, given my extreme competence, it is my civic duty to point out each and every mistake made by drivers who fall short of the ideal.

My corrective plan of action includes a sustained horn blast, a hearty “can you believe this moron” (uttered whether I am with someone or alone) and, depending upon my mood, a gesture that some would call rude, but I see as extremely constructive feedback. After all, if I don’t do it, who will?

A careful reader–and really why wouldn’t you be?–will notice that given the current sorry state of the world, more and more of every day is being consumed with bouts of indignation and sentences that begin with “if only they would…”

This means that those of us with savant-like ability to discern and lift up all that is wrong in the world are just getting busier and busier. And while, just speaking for myself, I have become more proficient at re-posting highly illustrative memes and the like on social media sites, I still feel like my work is never done. And you may have noticed that those of us engaged in this work are rarely, if ever, thanked for it. If only people would be a little more appreciative.

Now, despite the never-ending work, the ineptitude to be endured and the appalling lack of gratitude for all the highly focused cynicism, I take a certain measure of solace knowing that my place among the righteous is secure. Well at least for now.

If anyone actually does any work to eradicate the things I’ve so graciously called their attention to I might have to find a different hobby.

But until then, you know what they say: “Point out the change you wish to see in the world.”

HT to Aaron White for inspiring this post.

I fought the math and the math won

Emotion often trumps logic.

We buy the story before we buy the product.

How our experience with a brand makes us feel can overcome the simple calculus of pro’s and con’s.

Because of this, I advise start-up entrepreneurs and deeply experienced corporate types alike to start with the story, to envision the full experience we want to deliver, to design for how we intend the customer to feel and how we hope they will amplify our message to their tribes.

But then comes the math.

And, alas, there is no escaping a few basic equations.

You can’t escape the fact that customers can’t buy your product or service if they aren’t aware of it. In an increasingly noisy world, where the toll-takers who often control getting your brand in front of the right customers keep raising their prices, you had better crunch these numbers.

If you are in any kind of retail, you can’t escape the math that your sales are a function of the amount of traffic you drive to your store or website, your conversion rate, the average unit retail of the items sold and the # of items purchased. Failing to understand these dynamics–and the throughput at each stage–is often where things start to fall apart.

In any business, if the lifetime value of the customer is less than the cost of acquisition and ongoing costs to serve, your numbers will never add up.

If it’s costing you more and more to acquire new customers, while you are experiencing high-rates of churn among existing, lower cost to acquire customers, the wall is fast approaching.

If you are adding a lot of cost to become omni-channel while merely spreading existing sales over a now higher cost base, you don’t have to be Descartes to know that’s not a long-term winning formula.

There are two ways we fight math. The first is to ignore it in the first place. The second is to stick our head in the sand when it starts to become more and more obvious that our numbers don’t add up.

Math–like feelings, ironically–doesn’t go away because we ignore it. Math doesn’t care that we are all about brand building. Math doesn’t have an opinion on how disruptive our start-up is. Math couldn’t care less that we hope to get acquired and cash out before we have to demonstrate profitability. Math is immutable and dispassionate. Math is a stubborn you-know-what.

Fight the industry incumbents all day long. Fight The Man, the power, the haters and the status quo as much of you want. Math doesn’t care.

But at some point, your numbers will have to add up and multiply through. And you’re going to want math on your side.

Technique is overrated

Technically, Bob Dylan isn’t much of a singer. Neither is Jay-Z or Kanye. If Courtney Barnett turns out to be the next big thing it isn’t going to be because of her range or perfect pitch.

Kurt Cobain was certainly no Andres Segovia. Jimi Hendrix played his guitar upside down, backwards and strung “the wrong way.”

Not one of the Beatles could read sheet music. Neither could (or can) Duke Ellington, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, B.B King or Elvis Presley.

Growing up I can remember many times when my father would see some of the most influential Modern and Contemporary art and say “I could do that.” Perhaps he could. But he never did. Too bad, those millions would have come in handy.

Conventions, rules and technical standards obviously have their place. If you’re flying my plane or operating on my brain I’m counting on you to really know your stuff.

But for most of us, the work that matters doesn’t rely on a text-book approach, a finely tuned PowerPoint deck or a Board-certified anything.

The ability to evoke emotion, to connect, to create something meaningful, rarely requires mastery of an established protocol or any one tried and true skill or approach. The illusion that it does is what keeps us stuck.

If you’re waiting for perfection or just the right time, you’ll likely be waiting forever.

If you’re hoping that someone will tell you it’s okay to start, prepare to be disappointed. Chances are you’re going to have to choose yourself.

Do your research, study all you want and by all means, practice, practice, practice. Just know that you are going to have to start before you’re ready.

And if you really think you could do that, well then do it.

We’re waiting.