It’s easy to vote ‘no’

“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” ~Pema Chodron

It’s rarely the case that organizations utterly lack new ideas or things to try. They just get voted down most of the time.

Many of us when confronted with change are quick to find fault with moving ahead. It might not work. We could look foolish. It just makes me uncomfortable. Maybe I’ll get fired. Best to just say ‘no.’

Most of us are filled with “should’s.” I should finish that novel or start that business. I should speak up more. I should finally make that trip. I should deal with the unfinished business with my family. And on and on. But our fear keeps us stuck and ‘no’ is all too often the seemingly safe choice.

Voting ‘yes’ more often isn’t the path of least resistance and it is far from a guarantee of success. Not everyone will get it, few may have your back and others might shun you entirely.

Stay the course. Be vulnerable. Chase remarkable.

Going out on a limb is where we’re needed, where we’re called to be, where the magic happens.

And your vote counts.

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Broadway shouldn’t work

In an age where a virtually infinite amount of entertainment is available whenever, wherever and however we want it–with much of it free or very inexpensive–Broadway just posted its best season ever.

Somehow, despite the inconvenience, despite the high cost, despite the fact that the show will start when it wants, not when you want, millions of people each year still choose to trek to Manhattan, plop their butts in a seat for 2 hours or so and, in the case of Hamilton, often shell out way north of $500.

It shouldn’t work. But it does.

It works because what a great Broadway show offers is unique and scarce.

It works because certain aspects of the experience of seeing a live performance cannot be replicated online.

It works because there is something magical about an immersive happening we get to share with our tribe.

It works because after we’ve been through it we have a remarkable story to tell.

Broadway didn’t have its best year ever because they collectively decided to make what they already offer cheaper and more digitally accessible. They had their best year ever by leaning into what they do that is relevant and remarkable.

The death of physical retail IS greatly exaggerated. But maybe if retailers want to do more than just survive or tread water, Broadway can teach us a thing or two.

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The hardest to learn is the least complicated

Gentle reader, congratulations on your wise choice. It is indeed your good fortune to have chosen to read my blog today for I am about to reveal a short-list of virtually guaranteed ways for you to be successful in both your professional career and your personal life.

Intrigued? I bet.

Ready? Let’s do this.

Steve’s virtually sure-fire ways to be successful in business:

  1. Focus relentlessly on the customer.
  2. Never engage in a price war you can’t win.
  3. Defy the sea of sameness and find your purple cow.
  4. Treat different customers differently.
  5. Reject the cult of busy.
  6. Don’t be afraid to fail. Fail better.

Steve’s virtually sure-fire ways to be successful in your personal life:

  1. Accept the things you cannot change.
  2. Live in the now; be present and mindful in all you do.
  3. Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
  4. Don’t take things personally.
  5. Remember the things for which you are grateful.
  6. Live open-heartedly and with compassion.
  7. Embrace vulnerability.

As a reader of this blog you have already revealed yourself to be a person of great intelligence and discernment, so you have likely already concluded that these ideas– collectively and individually–are both true and useful. More importantly, you probably noticed that they are all conceptually rather simple to comprehend.

So why do we struggle to put them into practice?

The first reason is our habits. If you are anything like me, you’ve been been conditioned to strive for perfection, to associate your self-worth with your job, your busyness and your possessions. Perhaps you’ve also been taught that vulnerability is weakness or that you’re not okay unless the people around you are okay or that it is your job to figure things out without the help of others. These are all rather obvious and destructive lies, yet our negative practice has created deep grooves in our psyche. The only antidote is to develop different habits and practice them until new grooves are formed.

The understanding is not the hard part. It’s the un-doing.

The second reason is our choices. I’ve watched myself (and more than a few friends, colleagues and loved ones) decide to stay stuck in the past, fight things I couldn’t change, drink the poison of resentment, bask in the misguided attention of victimhood and generally engage in far too much ego grasping and not enough letting go.

Again the understanding is not the hard part. It’s the acceptance that every day we start clean slated and I (and you my dear friend) get the chance to make a new set of choices. Our task is to choose wisely and to rinse and repeat.

The wolf we feed is the one that wins.

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h/t to the Indigo Girls for the title inspiration.

An audience or a customer base?

As we become more data-driven having an accurate, complete and actionable customer database is certainly worthwhile. Of course many brands struggle even to get the basics of this right. And that’s a problem.

Yet even when we get this mostly right simply having someone in our database isn’t necessarily all that useful. Many people we label “customers” haven’t bought in quite some time and often we have no idea why that is. Others aren’t the least bit loyal, only buying when we give them an incredible deal. Still others prefer us for only one specific thing and the potential to grow share of wallet with them is nil. Chances are there are also quite a few names in our file that were acquired through some gimmicky email promotion and those folks actual interest in our brand is non-existent. And that’s a bigger problem.

Contrast that with an audience.

Audiences actively follow what we’re up to. We’ve earned their share of attention. They eagerly await our next release. They quite willingly sign up to hear from us. They share our interesting stuff with their friends. They are engaged, not passive. Sometimes they even sing-along.

Ideally, the size of our audience is not so big that we dilute the possibility of sustained relevance, nor so small that it borders on meaningless. Done intentionally and with care, it’s just right.

Could it be we’re spending too much time building our databases and not enough time curating and growing an audience?

 

h/t to Austin Kleon for the continued inspiration.

Tell a better story

You sell a product that is losing out to Amazon on price and convenience?

Stop chasing your tail in the pursuit of ever lower prices or fanciful plans to get into the same-day delivery business. Tell a better story; one rooted in deep customer relevance and remarkability.

You run a non-profit that has trouble getting the attention of large donors?

Stop trotting out endless statistics and convoluted theories of change. Tell a better story, one that connects emotionally, paints a clear picture of a brighter future and inspires hope in a new and different way.

You see yourself as someone who has to do something to prove their worthiness?

Stop repeating the false narrative of victimhood or original sin. Tell a better story, one that rejects the abusive programming from your childhood and one that embraces the gifts of imperfection.

I get it. Facts can’t diverge from an experienced reality forever. But far fewer things are actually facts than we tend to think. And besides, data without a soul, an inspiration or an ultimate hero, is often meaningless.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s a lousy business strategy.

You may feel like you have facts on your side, but hearts and minds (and wallets) rarely open up to the overwhelming force of logic.

The best way to claim our worthiness–to believe we are enough, we have enough and we that do enough-is to buy into the story until it rings true. Until it becomes habit.

People buy the story before they buy the product.

If nobody’s buying the product (even when that product is you) maybe the time you spend trying to be like everyone else or burnishing your PowerPoint would be better spent crafting a better story, believing in it and watching it spread.

The struggles of the flying trapeze artist

If only growth–profound, meaningful growth–personal, business or otherwise, could happen without confronting our fears and was devoid of any risk, absent any real struggle or pain.

Wouldn’t it be great if the journey from a challenging present set of circumstances to a robust, inspiring future could skip over the whole vulnerable and disquieting parts? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could retain the warm comfort of doing what we’ve always done while still getting the benefits of all this new stuff we tell ourselves we need to do?

But once we get serious about change, once we are ready and committed to do the work, our struggles are akin to those of flying trapeze artists.

The trapeze artist climbs up that ladder and takes a position high above the safety of terra firma.

The trapeze artist must accept the risk that she might fall.

The trapeze artist then courageously leaps off the platform, leaving stability and security behind.

The trapeze artist then works on timing and coordination and building up the right speed.

And then she has to let go of what’s she been holding on to and have the faith that there will be something to grab hold of to support her and to propel her forward.

As Seth reminds us, there are no timid trapeze artists and you can’t get to the next rope if you’re still holding on to this one.

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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.

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