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.

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.

A lot of oysters, but no pearls

It’s worth remembering that “big data” in and of itself does not automatically lead to useful nuggets of actionable insight.

It’s worth remembering that having a lot of customers doesn’t mean you have a core group of profitable and loyal ones willing to advocate for your brand.

It’s worth remembering that generating lots of ideas doesn’t guarantee a good one will magically emerge.

It’s worth remembering that you can be plenty busy and not necessarily be working on the few things that truly make a difference.

Sure, sometimes you need a lot of oysters to be certain you will find a pearl. And maybe that kissing a lot of frogs thing helps some folks find their prince.

Most of the time, however, if we constantly remind ourselves that our goal is more pearls not more oysters, we can save ourselves a lot of time, energy and distraction.

 

HT to Counting Crows for the title inspiration.

Timid transformation

Funny how many companies speak of the fundamental shifts affecting their industries but haven’t gotten around to changing much about they way they go to market.

And isn’t it peculiar how most brands talk about putting the customer at the center of everything they do yet–with few exceptions–they are still organized by channel and cling to a heavy reliance on mass marketing techniques?

As disruptive new business models emerge and gobble up market share in just about every sector of our economy, you would think that more industry incumbents would be motivated to change and to change profoundly. Alas, mostly we get rhetoric, empty promises and tepid experiments.

The transformative forces shaping consumer behavior–the connection economy, all things digital and so on–fray traditional loyalties, make many historically strong business models obsolete and only serve to accelerate the shift in power away from brands toward the customer.

So you would think that companies would realize the need to change as fast as their consumers. But evidence suggests that this rarely happens.

It’s far from obvious that timid transformations work.  So why then is that the path you’ve chosen?

 

 

 

Stayin’ busy?

“It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?”

- Henry David Thoreau

Lately I’ve noticed how often people ask me if I’m staying busy. I’ve also noticed that if I give some sort of affirmative response, the typical reply is usually along the lines of “that’s good to hear.”

Now I recognize that for some people asking the “stayin’ busy?” question may not be much different from asking “how’s it going?” It’s much more of a greeting than a legitimate probe.

Perhaps for others they are genuinely worried that, with time on my hands, I may get into all sorts of trouble. Let’s be honest, faced with idle time, I haven’t always made the best choices. Yet I know my reactivity goes deeper.

I know there have been times that I have measured my success–and some might say my worth–by the fullness of my calendar, how long my to-do list was and how frenzied I became moving from one task or meeting to the next.

There have been many occasions when I have confused activity with progress.

All too often, I have allowed the urgent to crowd out the important.

I have soothed my fear of tackling the hard, uncomfortable work by filling my day with the easy and the meaningless.

I have made perceived obligations the antidote to intentionality.

More times than I’d like to admit, I have let my addiction to busyness get in the way of fully embracing the purposeful and the impactful.

So the next time someone asks me if I’m “stayin’ busy” my answer might be “yes” “no” or “kind of.”

But regardless of my particular answer on that particular day, I hope deep down I can honestly say to myself “but that’s not the point.”