Fish from the other side of the boat

Perhaps you know the biblical story about how Jesus comes upon a group of fishermen at the Sea of Galilee who aren’t having any luck catching fish.

After discovering their plight Jesus says to them: “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” And, as the story goes, when they try the other side of the boat they catch so many they can’t haul them all in.

Now the skeptical among us are likely quick to note that you have to be a pretty lousy fisherman to not figure this out for yourself. And you certainly don’t have to be a divine figure to come up with this rather obvious advice.

Yet despite my particular spiritual affiliation and general level of cynicism–spoiler alert: it’s high–I find the underlying message to be a strong one.

All too often, we get so stuck in habitual patterns that we fail to see the obvious. We return to the same practices and methods well past their point of effectiveness. We stay in relationships that, at best, aren’t growing and, at worst, cause unhappiness and resentment. We go back to the tried and true, because that’s what we’ve always done and it’s scary to let go and be willing to try something completely different.

It seems to me, sometimes we’ve had our line in the water in the same place for so long we don’t even notice we haven’t gotten any bites in a really long time.

HT to the Reverend Daniel Kanter for the sermon that inspired this post.




Reach is not impact

This Sunday dozens of brands will pay for multi-million dollar Super Bow ads because those spots will get them in front of what is likely to be the most watched TV show in US history. The odds that more than a handful of these massive budget campaigns will accomplish their objectives sits somewhere between slim and none. Great reach, little impact.

Today, tomorrow and the next day, many thousands of brands will send out many thousands of email and direct mail campaigns to many millions of customers–and most will be ecstatic to get a 1% response rate. Huge reach, very little impact.

Each and every day many of us fret about how many friends we have on Facebook, our Twitter follower count or the number of “likes” we get for something we post. Our often fragile egos may get a temporary hit from multiple retweets or for a bunch of “likes” for our super cute outfit, some random photo of our lunch or the preciousness of our kid and/or dog. But to conflate the number of superficial affirmations we might get with making a meaningful difference is a mistake. We crave more and more reach, but substantive impact is almost always lacking.

As Bernadette so rightly reminds us: “it doesn’t matter who encounters your message, your product, or your service if they don’t care about it.”.

It’s one thing to relentlessly pursue more. It’s another to relentlessly pursue better, more remarkable, truly relevant, deeply connected.

Maybe the people in the tribes we lead want us to turn it up to 11, to increase the frequency, to go for more, more, more. Maybe average or boring is just fine by them.

Or maybe it’s about easing back on the throttle, turning down the volume and choosing instead to uncover and celebrate the people that really matter to us. And then, very intentionally, crafting a message and an experience that deeply resonates with them.

There isn’t only one right way to do this. Your results may vary.

But when we confuse reach with impact, we’re bound to end up in a bad place.

When we ask the question: “who cares?” and the answer is probably only a handful of the people we’re talking to, marketing to, sharing with, then the quest for reach has likely gone to far.


Swimming in the deep end

I want to live a life of purpose. I hope to see the world changed for the better. I want to innovate. I’d like to make a real and lasting difference.

So here’s my plan…

I’ll lay low. I’ll take little or no risk. I’m going to please everyone and try to get them to like me. When given a choice, I’ll take the path of least resistance. I’ll say things like “failure is not an option” and mean it. I’ll spend most of my time pointing out what others are doing wrong.

“But that’s a terrible plan” you say.

It is and it seems glaringly obvious. But it is, in fact, what so many of us (and the organizations we are part of) have chosen as our strategy, despite our statements to the contrary.

I wish there were an easier, softer way. Spoiler alert: there isn’t.

The work that matters gets done when we let go of our people-pleasing default mechanism.

The work that matters gets done when we accept that–as Seth reminds us–“if failure is not an option, then neither is success.”

The work that matters gets done by working out in public, by sitting right down in front where everyone can see us, by being in the arena, instead of the stands.

The work that matters happens when we show up, over and over again, as our most authentic selves.

The work that matters is set in motion when we have the courage to make a conscious and intentional choice to leave the shallow end for something deeper. To take the plunge. And to start swimming.


h/t to Brene Brown for the virtually constant inspiration.


When the music stops

Somehow we seem to forget that in business the good times don’t last forever.

When the economy is strong, most decently run mature businesses thrive. For an earlier stage company, once it starts to gain traction, new customers come relatively easily and competitive forces are minimal.

But there will come a time when the music stops. A time when a booming economy can no longer mask our weaknesses, when emerging competition becomes a serious issue, when what worked so well for so long suddenly doesn’t.

Eventually, we can’t raise prices so easily. Inevitably we have challenges driving traffic or closing sales. The cost of acquiring a new customer (or maintaining frequency with an existing one) begins to rise. The once strong growth rates from new stores or our e-commerce business start to moderate.

The only surprising thing in all of this is that we seem surprised when it happens.

When things are good is precisely the time to invest in the future–a future that is very likely to include the need to drive virtually all growth from stealing market share, not merely riding a rising tide or passing on inflationary price increases.

For many businesses that time is right now or just around the corner. In that world good enough isn’t. Good enough doesn’t get you noticed. Good enough doesn’t cause customers to switch. Good enough rarely leads to loyalty or the ability to charge a premium price.

Stealing market share requires being more intensely relevant, more remarkable and, perhaps, more idiosyncratic than the competition. Unfortunately most organizations don’t worry about this stuff until they have to. And by then it’s usually too late.

Fix the roof when the sun is shining. Or something like that.

When the shift hits the fan

Shift happens. And it’s never been more expansive and dynamic.

The shift from brick & mortar to e-commerce.

The shift from “going online” to living online.

The shift from traditional media consumption to a digital first model.

The shift from silo-ed customer experiences to harmonious ones.

The shift from highly intentional shopping to more spontaneous “micro-moments.”

The shift from isolated customer journeys to those that are deeply connected.

The shift from brands’ being in control to empowered consumers who are increasingly calling the shots and dictating their requirements.

The shift from one-size-fits-all to highly personalized interactions and marketing. The end of mass, the beginning of us.

Confronted with these profound shifts, the tendency of many organizations is to go on the defensive. Overwhelmed by the shifting tides–and afraid to take risks in a fast-moving and highly uncertain environment–they circle the wagons to fight the changes or develop plans to cope with them. But survival is not enough.

When shift happens our goal has to be to understand it, to accept it and to go through it rather than around it. We must embrace it in a desire to thrive, not simply survive.

And most importantly, we need to get out in front of it well before it hits the fan.

H/T to Seth

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”?