Just because you killed Jesse James . . .

“Just because you killed Jesse James, don’t make you Jesse James.”

- Mike Ehrmantraut to Walter White, Episode 3, Season 5 of Breaking Bad.

Just because you’ve shot down my idea doesn’t mean yours is better. Defending the status quo can be necessary, but mostly it’s an excuse to stay trapped in our fear.

Just because you sit in judgment of all the “idiot” drivers and “slothful” welfare recipients and “feckless” politicians, doesn’t actually do anything. Though your fragile ego may get a hit for a few seconds, putting others down isn’t a solution. And it certainly adds nothing to the level of discourse.

Tearing down something else isn’t the same as your building something worthy or interesting. So instead of complaining, let’s see your plan.

Being the critic is mostly a place to hide from the hard work of leading us to something new and meaningful. So instead of judging, let’s hear your ideas.

Eliminating the competition may make life easier for a bit, but eventually our art, our projects, our passions have to stand on their own merits.

The universe is listening. And waiting.

 

It’s just cheese

My now ex-wife had a great first career in brand management at Kraft Foods. Early in our marriage, when she would get all wound up about something that had gone wrong at work, I would often find myself saying “you know Nancy, it’s just cheese.”

Around the same the time, I was in working at Sears. To be sure, I had my share of seemingly miserable days. And when I would get caught up in my own tale of woe, Nancy would sometimes remind me that I was devoting my life to making the world safe for moderately priced, largely unfashionable, family apparel. It’s fair to say that neither of us was curing cancer.

At a dinner party a few years ago, several of us endured a tax attorney prattling on about how tough his day had been. Finally, the pediatric surgeon seated to my right interrupted his rambling and interjected: “Yeah, that sounds really awful. Of course when I have a bad day somebody’s kid dies.”

It’s so easy to get caught up in the minutiae, to tell ourselves that because we are spending time on something it must be, by definition, important.

It’s so easy to spin ourselves into a maelstrom of worry about the small stuff.

It’s so easy to lose perspective.

But more times that not, it’s just cheese.

Collaborate with the unknown

Few truly important things happen in the warm safety of the familiar.

Clearly, the tried and true works some of the time. Yet much of the really interesting and impactful happens as we challenge our self-imposed boundaries and confront the bracing chill of our discomfort. When we choose–and don’t let any one tell you it’s not a choice–to walk through our fear, nearly infinite possibilities come in to view.

Innovation, by definition, implies a dance with uncertainty. Meaningful change occurs when we accept that this might not work, but we forge ahead anyway.

We exert so much energy–and spend so much time–fighting the unknown.

What if we decided to collaborate instead?

I don’t need to make you wrong

I don’t need to make you wrong to have a valid point.

I don’t need to make you wrong to express my wants and needs.

I don’t need to make you wrong to own my truth.

I don’t need to make you wrong just to feel better about myself.

My happiness does not require others’ suffering.

And what exactly is the point of creating a longer list of enemies and idiots?

When we make cutting the other person down our priority, our energy is almost always wasted.

When we start from a position of  “I’m right, you’re wrong,” our capacity for compassion is diminished.

When our ego pushes us to focus on everyone else–and to believe that everything would be okay if all these other folks would just get their act together–we lose sight of what we uniquely can do…what we are called to do…what we must do.

Attend your own lectures

I wish I could count how many times I’ve given advice to others that, while perfectly suited to my own circumstances, I’ve never taken.

I wish I could resist being irritated by character flaws or annoying behavior among friends, families and (sometimes) even random people on the street. Of course, usually what irks me in them is some reminder of my own perceived shortcomings.

Why is it so easy for me to notice  your failings while conveniently ignoring my own?

Why do I feel better pointing the finger at someone else, when really it should be pointed right back at myself?

Carl Jung pioneered the notion of the shadow self, describing how we often project our perceived, often unconscious, inferiority onto others while being unable or unwilling to see these traits in ourselves.

Debbie Ford–until her untimely death last year–and quite a few others have carried forth Jung’s work and expanded it in many useful ways.

In 12 Step groups “you spot it, you got it” is a familiar refrain.

And believe me, I’ve heard the phrase “consultant heal thyself” more than a few times.

None of this should be news. But I sure need to be reminded of it quite often.

I am aware that when I remember to spend less time worrying about you, and more time focused on the things within my control, things go a whole lot better for me.

I accept that when I attend my own lectures most of the time I have all the knowledge I truly need.

And then it’s time to act.

 

 

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Might happen, will happen, has happened

In a classic Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis routine, Rowan asks “what is the secret to great comedy?” But before Richard can offer his reply, Rowan interrupts. “Timing” he blurts out.

Timing is, of course, essential to great strategy as well. Commit too early, and we risk over-investing or distracting ourselves from something more urgent and important. Commit too late, and we might miss a new opportunity entirely or end up falling woefully behind.

Understanding when to act at all, much less knowing when to act decisively, has everything to do with developing keen awareness of relevant factors and acceptance of their implications. Here is where most get it wrong.

Because most brands fail to invest sufficiently in developing actionable market and consumer insight, their ability to discern between “might happen”, “will happen” and “has happened” is woefully lacking.

Because most organizations do not have sufficient commitment to experimentation, they aren’t ready to act boldly when “might happen” becomes “will happen”.

Because most companies spend more time defending the status quo rather than embracing the future, they are often stuck in the past and miss “has happened” entirely.

Many important dynamics have–or are about to–change your customers and your business. Whether you realize it or not, is one thing.

And whether you are prepared to act on that realization is ultimately the difference between winning and wondering what the heck just happened?

 

Rewarding stupid

The brand that incentivizes lowering the cost of its customer service function, when faster response time–and assuring the customer’s problem gets resolved the first time–is what drives customer value.

The retailer that slavishly measures–and provides bonuses for silo leaders based upon–individual channel performance, when the majority of its consumers research and shop across channels.

The credit card company that relentlessly increases late fees and other nuisance charges to maximize “other” income, while card-holder retention and usage rates are dropping.

The marketer that continually increases the frequency of promotional e-mails because they are cheap and reach a lot of people, when opt-out and conversion rates of its very best customers continue to decline.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that when we reward stupid, we get stupid.

But apparently, sometimes, it still does.

Life lessons from the World Cup

If you watched both games of the World Cup yesterday you witnessed two powerful performances.

In the first game, nearing the end of extra time, Argentina’s Lionel Messi charged toward Switzerland’s goal with the opportunity to score what would almost certainly be the game winner. With the burden of his nation on his back, not to mention his reputation as one of the greatest in the sport, you might think he would use his phenomenal skills to control the outcome and own the personal glory. You’d be wrong.

Instead, he made a beautiful crossing pass to Angel di Maria, who guided a perfect left-footed low shot past Switzerland’s outstretched keeper for the win. Selflessness personified. Teamwork exemplified.

In the second game, USA’s Keeper Tim Howard put on one of the more astonishing performances in World Cup history. With the Americans largely outmatched by the Belgian side, Howard faced an offensive onslaught throughout the match. Without much help from his teammates, Howard demonstrated incredible grit and acrobatic flair, making a record number of saves and, incredibly, keeping the Belgians scoreless during regular time. Alas, Belgium finally broke through in stoppage time and the Americans were unable to keep pace and secure the storybook ending.

A Goalkeeper is one of the few roles on any team, in sports or otherwise, where the job is so narrowly prescribed. His (or her) job is almost entirely limited to playing defense, to prevent the other team from scoring. The Keeper typically has no significant contribution to whether his team scores or not. He can play fantastically and his team can still lose. To be a successful Keeper you have to do what you can–to do your very best–and accept that the rest is almost completely out of your control.

I know I would be well served to keep my energies focused on doing my level best and not worrying so much about things I cannot change.

I know the teams that I’ve been on perform a whole lot better when I cast my ego and selfishness aside.

And I don’t even play soccer. Or football.

Adapters and Mitigators. Deniers and Innovators.

It’s hardly a great insight to opine that life is full of change. But whether it’s in business or on the personal front, the increasing pace of change may very well astound you. Or frighten you.

When faced with change we have a few differing personas and postures that we can adopt. I’ve broken them into four types.

Adapters. These folks lean into the reality of the situation. They don’t spend much time or energy lamenting the change, they evolve with it. Adapters are typically playing offense.

Mitigators. This type seeks to reduce the impact of any change, pushing back on the root cause of any shift in the way the world is or is quickly becoming. They are focused on alleviating the pain or damage. They play good defense.

Deniers are those that can’t accept reality or responsibility. Stuck in the past, head in the sand, they don’t really play offense or defense. They just don’t play. They are the CEO’s who have yet to embrace all things digital. They are the divorced man or woman who can’t stop bashing their ex and move on. The people who think dinosaurs and man were around at the same time. Sometimes they are named Dick Cheney.

Innovators are rarely in reaction to the simple here and now. They have the ability to see beyond the obvious and define a new reality. They don’t really adapt or mitigate a situation because they solve a completely different problem or reframe the field of play.

Depending on the situation, being either an Adapter or a Mitigator can be an effective strategy–though rarely does either bring truly remarkable results. Instead, it is the Innovator who has the power to create a step function in utility or orders of magnitude of impact. Easier said than done.

And of course being a Denier just doesn’t work. For anyone.

Unfortunately, when we get stuck in our ignorance or fear, it is a path that is all too easily–and all too commonly–chosen.

We can too better. We have to do better.

 

Shut up and begin

At any given moment, on any given day, my mind is filled with all sorts of things, from the sublime to the trivial. People I should call. Tasks to check off my to-do list. Ideas I want to develop. Projects that–as we say here in Texas–I’m fixin’ to start. That book I’m supposed to be writing. I know I have all sorts of important work to do…and yet…

And yet scarcely a few seconds pass before the Resistance hits. It’s not long before all my doubts and fears begin to find a warm, receptive and, dare I say, familiar place in my brain. Avoidance trumps action. Procrastination is my new best friend.

Sure, I could get started right here, right now, but don’t I require more research? Shouldn’t I let those ideas percolate a bit more before committing them to paper? Isn’t it prudent to prepare more thoroughly before making that call? Isn’t tomorrow a better time to get started anyway?

We all have that inner voice telling us that we are not good enough, that there will be a better time than now, that with just a bit more of this or a smidgen of that the universe will be better aligned for us to do our best work.

Don’t believe it.

In the time it takes to tell ourselves all the reasons we should wait for inspiration, to ponder a wee bit more, to do further research, to seek that perfect confluence of events, we could have started. With rare exception, there never will be a better time than now.

So shut up and begin.