99 problems but a botch ain’t one

For many of us, it’s so easy to identify with a story about all of our problems. My boss is a jerk, it’s too hot, I’m so busy, my back hurts, allergies are really bad this year, this idiot cut me off in traffic, and on and on.

In this line of thinking, stuff happens and somehow or other we’re a perpetual victim. Who cares that much of this is out of our control or that few of these situations truly arise to being much of a real problem at all. Indeed, to paraphrase Eckhart Tolle, “the problem is not the problem, the problem is our thinking about the problem.”

Yet, for me, it’s interesting how rarely our narrative includes owning up to a botch, a blunder, a mess we made, our glorious failure or bungled experiment.

Sometimes it’s just too painful to admit we took a chance and it didn’t work out.

Sometimes we’re scared to say “here I made this” and face criticism or outright rejection.

Sometimes, we conveniently ignore our role in a less than desired outcome.

Of course, sometimes there can be no botch, because we took no risk. The fact is it’s almost always easier to do nothing.

Growth doesn’t come from rehashing life’s little inconveniences or slights. It comes from taking the leap and exposing ourselves to the harsh light of both the tribe and the trolls. It’s not about trying to avoid the botch, it’s about being prepared to fail, fail again and fail better.

Ultimately we must make a choice. Will it be “V” for victim or “V for Vulnerable”?

The upside of denial

Is there any?

If your experience is anything like mine, you know how seductive denial can be. Denial is the temptress that helps us avoid pain. Denial keeps us in our comfort zone like a warm bath at the end of a long day. Denial creates the sense that defending the status quo is working or that we can go around our problems rather than through them.

But mostly it creates an illusion of safety when the reality is anything but. It works incredibly well–until it doesn’t.

Denial is cunning and baffling. It’s the monster lurking beneath the surface, hiding in the closet and buried in the chatter of our monkey mind.

In a business setting, denial allows us to trumpet our booming customer acquisition statistics, while ignoring the other engagement metrics that are falling apart. It causes us to crow about our rapidly growing e-commerce business, while the reality is that it’s entirely channel shift. It’s the glowing press release, the clever Powerpoint, the rah-rah company-wide meeting or the slick investor presentation that contains all the right buzz-words, when everyone else knows it’s the proverbial lipstick on the pig.

Denial kept Sears from ever really dealing with Home Depot and Lowe’s. It kept Blockbuster and Borders from confronting digital. And on and on.

Too often denial feels like our friend, when in fact it is every inch our enemy.

As David Pell humorously reminds us: “Among the dinosaurs, there were many asteroid deniers.”

Prevention or remediation?

The forward-thinking organization worries about prevention: prevention of customer defection or declining engagement; prevention of an upstart competitor or disruptive technology irreparably harming their business model; prevention of bad word-of-mouth undermining their brand reputation; and so on.

In fact, they not only worry about it, they have systems, processes, metrics and, in some cases, whole departments that are designed to spot problems early and leap on emerging new opportunities.

Contrast that with the remediator. Remediators take a wait-and-see approach and their metrics are focused on the rear view mirror. They lack any meaningful commitment of resources to innovation. They live in reaction.

Not all that surprisingly, “stuff” seems to happen to them and often it seems as if they are painfully unaware–often until it’s too late. Remediators start a lot of sentences with “we should have…”

Innovation almost never happens by accident.

A little bit of paranoia never hurt.

Hope is a great attitude, but not much of a strategy.

Nobody every remediated their way to greatness.

And most train-wrecks can be prevented.

Why weren’t you Moses?

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the Hasidic Rabbi Zusya who, as he lay crying on his deathbed, was queried by his disciples: “Why do you fear God’s judgement? You have lived life with the faith of Abraham. You have been as nurturing as Rachel. You have feared the Divine as Moses himself. Why do fear judgement?”

To which he responds: “In the coming world, they will not ask me ‘why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?”

As Steven Furtick reminds us, so often we struggle because we compare our insides to everyone else’s highlight reel.

Maybe we’re the entrepreneur who measures herself against Jobs or Zuckerberg or Musk–or whomever happens to be the next rock star innovator.

Perhaps we’re the non-profit executive struggling mightily to emulate the playbook of Teach for America or charity: water or Acumen.

Or instead we’re the corporate leader obsessing about “best demonstrated practices” and beating ourselves up for our imperfection while our head spins wondering what would Jack or Jeff do?

We hit the golf course and curse ourselves because our drives don’t fly nearly as far as Jason’s and our putts don’t fall like Jordan’s. We castigate ourselves for not being as disciplined as this one and not being in as good shape as that one. We wonder what’s wrong with us because we don’t have the big house. And when we get the big house we worry about why ours isn’t decorated as nicely as our neighbors or what we see on TV.

It’s exhausting. More importantly, it’s pointless.

It’s pretty unlikely we find happiness through relentlessly competing and comparing to overcome our own insecurities. And I can’t think of one instance where meaningful change came from merely copying someone else.

I like what Oscar Wilde said. “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

HT to Dr. Laurel Hallman for inspiring this post

Your mileage will vary

We’re told to pray to the god of omni-channel retail and all will be well. Yet after diving into a world of complexity and huge cash outlays, sales and profits remain lackluster.

We’re advised to study best practices and creatively “steal” the ones that resonate the most. Yet, despite reading all the books and hiring the leading consultants, our customer experience remains far from Apple’s and our culture feels like the anti-Zappos. And nobody’s working a 4 hour work week, I can tell you that!

We’ve built a sexy app. We’ve started an Innovation Lab. We go to all the best conferences. We even know to call it “South By” like the cool kids. We’re on every imaginable social media channel. We chant “seamless customer experience” at our staff meetings, for crying out loud! Why aren’t things going better?

Sadly, even if you do a great job importing what’s working for others, chances are you’re merely keeping pace. Necessary, not sufficient.

Assuming that what works for one brand and their unique customer set is readily transferable to your situation is not almost always wrong, it can be incredibly dangerous.

As the power shifts irretrievably to consumers, as their options for information, access and choice compound exponentially, as it gets harder and harder to command share of attention, your job is not to simply import what’s worked elsewhere and propagate “me-too” solutions.

No, your job is to deeply understand your unique situation, to embrace a treat different customers differently philosophy and to craft an intensely relevant and powerfully remarkable experience.

As tempting as it is to buy the sexiest car in the lot, equipped with the latest technology and anticipate the rush of exhilaration as you step on the gas, the fact is your mileage will vary–perhaps, a lot. The sooner we accept that the better.

And then it’s time to begin the hard, uncomfortable work.

If you build it, they might yawn

Through my various roles I’m exposed to a lot of new ideas and business concepts. Some come from clients looking to grow, others from entrepreneurs hoping to create the next big thing and still others, somewhat randomly, from connections within my network or who find me via my writing and speaking.

Regardless of how our worlds collide, I generally find that most proponents have a decent sense of the customers they intend to serve and almost everyone can clearly articulate the features and benefits of their idea. It’s all good, but it’s rarely enough.

While technology has advanced to the point where many ideas–including your competitors’–can be developed and scaled rapidly and inexpensively, saying you’re a “lean startup” doesn’t automatically convey any advantage. And in a world where customers are overwhelmed by information and choice, your marginally better mousetrap isn’t likely to get easily noticed, much less considered.

The real battle today, the one you need to win, is for attention and trust.

It’s helpful to have a demonstrably better product or service, but to standout out among all the noise, your signal needs to be amplified. And that happens by being intensely relevant and truly remarkable–not merely incrementally better–and by delivering a story that demands to be told, again and again.

Building trust takes time. But if you are serious about building a brand it’s completely about creating an expectation of excellence and emotional power over time. And average or slightly better no longer works.

The reason so many new products and brands struggle is they are merely slightly different rifts on the same old features and benefits. Nice, but hardly remarkable.

The reason so many solid innovations struggle as well as that they fail to connect at an emotional level. Remember, people buy the story before they buy the product.

Just because it’s easy to build the product, don’t be seduced. Just because the internet allows for seemingly easy and cheap customer access, don’t under-estimate the challenge of breaking through the noise.

It’s never been easier to be innovative. It’s also never been easier to be boring.

Pure unicorn dust

Do you know companies that say they are all about growth and innovation, yet completely lack any semblance of a process or a modicum of dedicated funding and resources to support these efforts? Do they even possess a culture that not only celebrates taking risk, but that actually knows how to fail better?

Have you heard brands’ espouse a commitment to omni-channel and seamless integration that still operate with silo-ed organizations, silo-ed customer data, silo-ed systems and channel-driven, rather than customer-focused, metrics?

Perhaps you have a friend or a loved one who say they are full of love and compassion and who constantly speaks of making big changes in their life, but has yet to put any of it into practice?

When was the last time something worth doing spontaneously emerged at your organization? When the last time a major transformation happened without an all-in commitment from leadership and a willingness to take on the status quo? When was the last time you’ve made a big change in your life merely through talking about it?

Intentions are great. Concrete plans are better. But the work that matters is in the doing, in taking the plunge, in taking head-on the things that scare us, in making a ruckus.

Yes, it might not work. Sure, you could look stupid or reckless. And, there is a pretty good chance you’re going to piss some people off along your journey. That’s probably a clue that you’re on the right track.

Get out of the stands and into the arena. Anything else is just really good imagination.