Posted tagged ‘passion’

Who luvs ya, Baby?

November 18, 2010

One of the things that seems to unite most Americans, if not folks everywhere, is our love for an underdog.  Show me someone who has no chance going up against a bigger, meaner, wealthier, or more vicious adversary, and I am rooting like crazy for the “little guy.”  Who knows that more than LeBron James?  In the span of 8 months, he has gone from the loved, admired and franchise face of the Cleveland Cavaliers, to a member of the “Big Three” in Miami, with better nightlife, better teammates, more money, and allegedly, a genuine chance to win his first NBA championship.  And guess what?  Almost everyone is rooting against him and/or the Miami Heat.

We in the business world are not immune to this either, but we are often equally naive about it.  We start businesses, scrap for every client, contract or order, treat every customer like they were our first and last, and work our butts off to deliver the best services and products to grab just a sliver of the market from “the big guys.”  And some of the business we win comes from that very market rooting for an underdog.   And we start to succeed.

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First, we get noticed.  “Hey, who ARE those guys??”   Then, we get confident.  “We can beat anyone.”   And if we’re not careful, we get arrogant.  “We’re the best.”  And suddenly, no one is rooting for us anymore.

It’s good to want to be the best.  Just make sure your fans are telling you that, and not the other way around…

The Stone Pony

September 29, 2010

Bruce Springsteen is from New Jersey, as anyone who hasn’t been a hermit for the last 40 years would know.  There’s a bar in Asbury Park called the Stone Pony that has been a rock venue of sorts for many years.  It’s not a big place and it’s not exactly a “playground for the rich.”  But it is a bit renowned.

And why is that???

Because as Bruce Springsteen, Linda Rondstadt, Miami Steve Van Zandt and others became more and more famous, they would still “show up” from time to time at the Stone Pony, totally unannounced, and play a few tunes with whoever was onstage at the time.  Most NJ rock fans would be completely willing to take the chance that on the night they went to the Stone Pony, Bruce might show up.  And every time he did, the legend grew.  The ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy.

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What about you?  You’re a big shot in your company, right?  There’s a small gathering of worker-bees that you hear about through the grapevine, or maybe you actually get an invite.  You think to yourself, “yeah, right – if I show up, it would be awkward, people would expect me to do it all the time, I won’t be able to maintain my aura as a high-rolling exec,” yada, yada, yada…

How many publicists, managers, and sycophants tell Bruce the same thing before he decides to pop in at the Stone Pony??  That’s right – all of them.  But he shows up anyway, because he understands where his roots are.

So the question is, Who’s the Boss…?

HIPPOS, RHINOS and the Brooklyn Bridge

August 12, 2010

A while back, I went to an event called “Lunch with Google.”  It was actually pretty cool.  A mid-level manager from Google did a presentation on Google’s services (Adwords, etc.), their strategy and their corporate philosophy.  And I learned a new term that he shared – HIPPOS.  If I remember right – it stood for HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion.   The Google presenter told us that they work really hard to avoid placing additional value on that person’s opinion, especially in brainstorming and other creative exercises, just because of their paycheck, title, etc.  What a concept!!

I decided there must be a corollary term – RHINOS.  I think that stands for Recently Hired Innocent Naive Opinions.  The other end of the spectrum – someone new to the organization with different ideas, a certain charming lack of appreciation (aka naivete) of how “things work around here” and a willingness to overshare.

Time for the semi-interactive virtual poll!  In organizations you’ve worked at, how long does it take for a RHINO to become a MOOSE??  My Opinion Obviously CountS LEss (OK, so I stretched the whole acronym thing a bit – cut me some slack, I am trying to make a point… )

Here’s the worst part:  it’s all too common for a team of RHINOS and even MOOSE  to develop a measured, dare I say  innovative strategy that would likely provide not only benefits to an organization but a much-needed  injection of self-esteem to the team itself, only to have a HIPPO unilaterally shift the outcome, because they can.

My question is – If the VP of Sales jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, should you???

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What’s that ticking sound?

August 6, 2010

When I was growing up, there was a whole collection of games that I now realize fall into the same basic category – let’s call it event avoidance.  You know the games.  Musical Chairs, where there is always one more person than chair and you walk around with the other players until the music stops and then you dive for a chair and one person ends up standing – that’s the event you want to avoid!  And hot potato, where an item is passed around and when a timer goes off or some other signal is issued, as long as you’re not holding “the potato” you’re safe.  And there was even a game called Time Bomb, which I imagine would now be politically incorrect, where an actual ticking toy bomb is passed around among a group and if it “goes off” while you’re holding it, you’re out!

tbomb 

And so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me so much that there are lots of grownups out there, some of whom might even work for you, who are highly skilled at “event avoidance.”  There’s work to be done, a lingering issue that needs to be tackled, a new project that needs someone to get it started, or an upset customer that needs some attention.  And so the game begins.  The ticking starts and the work is deftly passed back and forth among different departments, vendors or team members.  Email, by the way, is one of the great enablers of this.  All you have to do is send someone an email with a reference to or question about the time bomb, and you’re safe until they respond!  “Didn’t you get my email about Angry Customer #37?”  You’re golden!

So I guess we have to live with the childhood cultural bias we’ve inadvertently provided.  But what about your culture now?  Do you wait until the music stops before holding your team accountable for getting work done?  Are you unconsciously enabling a big game of hot potato??

Bang!!!

Bam!

July 15, 2010

I like to cook.  And I have learned over time that there are two ways to cook.  With recipes, and without.  I have also learned that when you are having guests over to eat what you are cooking, it can often be best to cook WITH recipes.  In general, recipes you find on foodnetwork.com, other web sites or cookbooks have been tested and tasted repeatedly.  If you follow the directions and have a general idea of what you’re doing, you stand a good shot of ending up with an edible outcome that looks and tastes more or less like the recipe.  Good for you!

However, if you wish to experiment and stretch your culinary skills, or maybe even become known someday as a ‘chef’ in your own right, you need to start creating your own recipes.  That could entail a great deal of experimentation with cooking methods, ingredients, and textures.  It can also entail outcomes you did not intend, with potentially inedible results.   But if you keep your positive outlook, you will see each moment of “yuk” as a learning experience that you will use to perfect some future dish.

So the basic formula is:

Recipes = safer outcomes, repetitive results and relatively low creativity.

No recipes = exotic, dare I say innovative outcomes, unique results and high creativity.

News flash: this is not any different in the world of business.  If you want to deliver consistent results in the marketplace, whether that’s in healthcare, manufacturing or high tech, just follow the recipe.  Do what your competitors do and try your best to do it as well or better than they do.  There’s no shame in that.

But if you want to deliver different, innovative results, do something your competitors are not doing yet.  Above all, though, be prepared for the inevitable trial and error that will be part of the process.  If your organization cannot tolerate “yuk” you will not successfully innovate.  You will, however, be soundly criticized for the inedible meal by the “food critics” in your world…

And if you need inspiration, just think of the first person who ate a raw oyster.  He or she was either REALLY hungry or literally willing to try anything.  And what an awesome discovery!!

Pass the lemon and hot sauce…

Opening the blinds

February 20, 2009

I was challenged by one of my devoted readers this week [and I am up to a whopping six of them…], let’s call him Blane Gordon, to come up with a name for serial nine-to-fivers. You know, people who go through the motions at work, spend way too much time looking at the clock and praying for lunch time or the “official” end of the work day or who just feel like every second above 40 hours (or apparently 22 if you live in France…) is somehow a gift they’re reluctantly giving to their ungrateful employers. Good challenge, Blane!

So, as usual, I started with the obvious. Dolly Partons, clock watchers, whatever. But that doesn’t really get at the root of the behavior and the problem, plus it’s completely lame. The problem, first of all, is a lack of one of Peter Senge’s Five Disciplines – Shared Vision. And I could argue that it is the most precious commodity any company over 10 people in size could have. Shared vision means that everyone in an organization can both articulate what everyone is REALLY working for, and even better, they believe in it!

It’s not extraordinarily difficult to have shared vision in a five person company. There’s a good chance there’s some ownership split and that all five had some part in crafting a vision in the first place. But as an organization grows, it’s very easy to have that original vision slowly watered down until you wake up one day and see a frighteningly large number of nine-to-fivers heading for the door at 4:57 PM.

Think about the last time you worked really hard on something with no regard for effort or time consumed in the pursuit. I built a deck with my son and some good friends not long after we moved into our house a few years back, and I worked on it three or four weekends in a row from dawn til dusk and never really thought about anything other than making progress ( and of course, not screwing it up too bad in places people could see – if you’ve seen me use power tools, you’d know why that’s such a big concern…) But I know folks who could spend 16 straight hours sanding a boat getting it ready for sailing, training endless hours for the Boston Marathon, or building a new web site. They have vision. Which I define, in this instance, as a clear objective that they can imagine in their minds and the determination to get there. If you can instill that feeling in yourself or your team at work, you are a great leader indeed!

The opposite of that, of course, is no vision. And so, Blane, I would recommend that when you’re looking for some other term for a nine-to-fiver, try Magoo…


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