Blog : Strategy

The person who does that

workerWhen faced with a disruptive change; something that fundamentally alters the way your business works, it generally means that it’s time to do at least a few things differently if one hopes to survive.

When considering the competencies needed to do those new things, a common response is: “But we don’t really have anyone who currently does that…


The lazy way out is to consider your lack of adequate resources as a reason why doing that new thing isn’t worthwhile.

The foolish way out is to take someone that used to be doing other things, and assign them to the new role; authority by proximity and convenience. (Assigning the new requirements on top of previous responsibilities qualifies for a high score on foolish and some bonus points for lazy.)

The enlightened way out is to re-examine the environment in which you now find yourself and ask the hard question: If we were to blow it all up and start over, based on our current reality, how would we build this company?

It takes more work than the lazy approach, and more guts than the foolish approach, but ultimately leads to more than survival, enabling a constant state of reinvention.

Exposure will kill you

exposure will kill you

Serendipity just brought together two great points that will make any social media marketer think.

Electronista wrote about a report signifying a new trend among record labels: opting out of new subscription based services such as Rdio and Spotify. Long story short, a lot of plays is not being correlated with a lot of revenue. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

My friend Paul from Black Lab (a great Indie rock band) recently wrote a post that sums up his arguments as to why the band’s music wouldn’t be available on Spotify. Once again – getting paid is important. Money lets you feed a family and have a roof over your head.

Then I saw a retweet from @FauxMusicSupe (a parody music supervisor account) that summed it all up. In this brave new world, where marketing metrics are indeed shifting, sometimes exposure is getting too much credit. Too much exposure, without actual business goals being achieved might fool you for awhile, but eventually it will kill you. You can’t eat air.

How are you capitalizing on exposure to actually make money?

When it all goes wrong

It’s been said before that failing to plan is planning to fail. But, what do you do when it all goes wrong? We’ve all been there. You can plan and prepare as much as possible, and yet sometimes, in crunch time, everything falls apart. It sucks, its normal, it happens.

Some things are impossible to plan for.

Use failure to plan

There’s a lot of talk about failure being a backhanded gift; a learning opportunity in disguise. This is true, but only if you take advantage of it. Want to maximize the learning? Use failure to plan.

Exercise physiologists have proven that there is an optimal window for refuelling your body after an intense workout. After about 2 hours, you can still get the nutrition into your body – but the effects won’t be as good. Failure’s kind of like that.

Imagine you’ve just taken the stage to give a presentation, and something goes wrong. Think about the rush of emotion, adrenaline, and chaos that starts to play out in your body. As you walk off the stage, the adrenaline gives way to a blur of thoughts. Sentences resembling why didn’t I…., I can’t believe I…., and If only I had… own the moment.

This is your window. This is the magic hour for doing better next time. This is where you grow.

Your mind will protect you from dangerous things

If you’ve ever experienced a traumatic event, if enough time has passed, you will recognize the mind’s ability to make things go away. Ironically, it’s not the actual event that goes away, it’s often the tiny details. As time passes, we protect ourselves from the anguish, emotions and corrective self-talk. We build walls so that we don’t feel the adrenaline anymore.

Failure is a traumatic event. So, once the post-failure window passes – damage control sets in. We unconsciously start to forget.

It wasn’t so bad. I survived. Whatever. .

Build your action plan now

Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. There’s always room for improvement; so for a minute, let’s be pessimistic and say that everything we do contains some element of failure. Optimistically, this means everything we do contains some potential for learning. Take advantage of it.

Here are some things that have helped me:

  • Build and rehearse a procedure now (before you’re full of adrenaline and emotions), that you will use every time you have a post-event learning moment. Whether its a notebook, a voice recorder or a trusted friend that you talk to – make sure you know where you’re going to catch those corrective thoughts when they start to fly.
  • Schedule it – Book the time now, so you won’t run away and hide from the moment. I often take 30 minutes to jot down notes about a presentation within an hour of it being over.
  • Structure it. Use a template or a common format to force yourself to put down positives and negatives. This way you don’t gloss over the bad parts, and you force yourself to find good things.
  • Let it go – Once you’ve documented all of the what-if’s, you can park them on paper. Once they’re out of your mind – the danger is gone, things are taken care of, you’ll be able to sleep at night. And when you wake up, you can start taking action.

A perfect example? I was supposed to moderate an important webinar today. The technology completely fell apart. After 15 minutes of struggle, we threw in the towel and rescheduled.

In the moment, it sucked; a lot.

In the aftermath, my mind was flooded with if only we had…. But now after a structured time to reflect, we’ve circled the wagons, made the strategy more bulletproof and we’re ready to go again.

This strategy works well for me – how about you?

Photo Credit: Realworldracingphotog

It’s all been said before

How often do these words rattle around in your skull?
It’s all been said before

Sometimes the words are the building blocks of a good excuse. I use this all the time with blog posts and ideas for books. Some might call it writer’s block, Merlin Mann would call it an excuse: I can’t possibly write anything new… it’s all been said before..”

Sometimes, the sentiment is a reactionary damper on an idea that struck you as revolutionary; a manifestation of deep-seated disbelief in our own abilities. There’s no way I came up with that; I’m sure someone has already done that before.

Sometimes, it’s an opportunity.

You don’t have to dream it up every time

I was recently chatting with some folks who specialize in leadership education. As we went through leadership topics, from Lifehacker to Zen Habits to Gretchen Ruben’s Happiness Project – we encountered a recurring theme. Little of this is new information. It’s all been said before! And It’s true; many of the realizations from The Happiness Project were already summed up by Dale Carnegie – decades before Gretchen ever realized she was sad.

Does that make her book any less valuable to her readers?

Does that make it any less valuable to her as a New York Times best-seller?

Or did she make it new by saying it in her own way?

I’ve often looked at Malcolm Gladwell and wondered if he’s ever had an original thought in his life. But, now I realize I’ve been falling for the trap of it’s all been said before. Does Gladwell simply tells stories, facts, and figures that were already told by other people? Certainly. But does he make it all new by saying it in his own way? The sales of his books seem to indicate he does.

If Seth Godin were to read about the cage of it’s all been said before, he’d likely attribute it to the lizard brain; a vestigial apparatus on our brainstem designed to protect us from taking big risks. And he’d probably be right, after all, he did write a book about it. But guess what – that’s all been said before too. Steve Pressfield wrote about this extensively in The War of Art; and Paul McLean discussed the different parts of the human brain as early as the 1950′s.

So if it’s all been said before, what are we supposed to do?

That’s the secret

Don’t worry about it.

I remember a discussion I had with a singer about a song on his latest record. “It’s one of the best songs I’ve written in years,” he said. “I worked on it for a week, until I had it just right. And then, I realized, parts of the melody sound like something I released 5 years ago”.

You know what he did? He released it anyway. And no one noticed. The new song had new lyrics, new emotions, and new melodies on top of a familiar sound. It was a new experience.

Whether you’re building marketing campaigns, writing a novel or building a website – stop worrying about whether it’s all been said before.

Unless you were given a photocopier instead of a mind – remove the phrase from your vocabulary. Take whatever thoughts come to you, apply it to the context of your world, paint it with your brushes, in your colours, and let it go.

We’re not always blessed with world-changing new ideas, but apply your context and your spin, and your story can make all the difference in the world.

And when you do have one of those rare ideas that no one has ever had before? Maybe, if you’re lucky, someone, someday might give it new colours, new life, and make it resonate differently with an entirely new audience.

Bend the corners of your customers

Somewhere in my parents’ attic are boxes full of baseball cards. They sit there and they collect dust. Once upon a time, I put them behind hard plastic cases, shoved them in binders, and shielded them from sunlight, dust and fingerprints. In another box lie comic books, pressed against cardboard backings in carefully sealed plastic bags; some never even read. In my dark closet sit bottles of wine, that I look at and rotate, but never think of drinking.

These things all sit there because, by not interacting with them, I have been led to believe they will appreciate in value.

Your customers are not baseball cards

Somewhere in your organization are collections of your customers. They’re pressed into database tables like baseball cards. Like unread comic books, their stories remain untold. You don’t interact with them, because if you did; someone is afraid you might bend the corners or put a crease on the page.

By keeping them safe, perfect, untouched… you’ve been led to believe that they will remain valuable to you.

People don’t like being in collections

Give this a try. The next time you interact with a customer (or even a friend), ask them for their email address or phone number. Tell them “I’m going to add you to my marketing database, so I can extract value from this relationship when the time is right for me.”
That bristling sound you hear will be all of the proof that you need. People are not baseball cards. Confirmed.

Try bending the corners

Here’s an A/B test to run, and I hope someone gives it a shot.

Segment your database in half. Start a dialogue with half, via email, for example. Send them all a note asking what’s new in their jobs, what’s changed since you last saw each other, what challenges they’re facing these days. Ask them how you can help. Tell them you’re open to their suggestions as to how you can help them win.

Leave the other half to “collect value”, safely protected in their cozy database cells, and only bother them when you’re ready to cash them in.

Track the engagement of the two groups over time. Which group opens your emails? Which group engages with your offers? Which group buys more stuff? Recommends you to their friends? Who has the largest lifetime value?

As a customer, which group would you rather be in?

Photo Credit: Adam Glasgow

Productivity through mindfulness

Stop wishing there were more hours in the day. It’s not going to happen. Every day contains just 1440 minutes in which you can accomplish tasks, find enjoyment, take care of your body and recharge.

Like so many others, I’m always trying to get more done. I’m wired to achieve productivity by brute force: prying my eyelids open for extended periods of sleep deprivation, telling myself it’s all going to be worth it in the end.

I’ve tried all sorts of different approaches, from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, to Rescue Time software, with variable success. Lately, inspired by Leo Babauta from Zen Habits, I’m trying a new approach: productivity through mindfulness.

What are you doing?

Mindfulness is all about paying attention to the moment you’re in. If you’re cooking, then cook. If you’re reading, then read. If you’re eating, then eat. This is a great strategy to get more enjoyment out of your days, but I’m finding it’s also a great way to get more done.

Stop doing that thing

Here’s a mission for your Monday morning. You’re going to need a blank sheet of paper.

Choose your most important task that you need to achieve in your day. Write it at the top of the page in big bold text.

Next to it, write down a your starting time, and a realistic time for when you’d like to have that task accomplished.

Now draw a line across the page.

Start working

Be mindful of what you are doing. Whenever your mind strays, and you catch yourself doing or thinking about something that is not your main task, write down the specifics of your distraction. (This includes checking Twitter or Facebook) Timestamp your distraction.

When you complete the task, make a note of the time at the bottom of the page.

Your habits uncovered

The first time you try it, you’ll probably be on best behaviour. Try it for a few days, with a new sheet of paper for each task. You’ll find your habits start to reveal themselves. You’ll also see if you’re routinely taking longer than expected to get things done.

If you’re honest with yourself and don’t cheat – you’ll probably notice some patterns. You can now use your self-reported task logs to analyze and optimize your productivity.


Analyze the results using three questions: what, when, why?.

What: What was the distraction? Did you check your email? Maybe randomly switched tasks? Did you randomly visit a website just to see what was going on?

When: Check the time stamps for your distractions. This gives you an appreciation for your length of focus.

Why: Why did you become distracted… this one is key. Was it your email alert sound? Did a co-worker start a conversation? Did you suddenly want to read the news/facebook/twitter?


Often, mindfulness alone will improve your performance. Acknowledging and correcting your habits will take you even further.

If any of the distractions can be eliminated right away, get rid of them. Turn off alert sounds, send your phone to voicemail, have a tough conversation with chatty co-workers (or invest in good headphones).

Use the time stamps to schedule some breaks. Remember mindfulness. When you’re taking a break, focus on not working!

Use software to block distracting websites or the internet entirely (Freedom is great for that). Tell yourself that you can read that blog, check twitter, or IM with your chatty friend during your next break or when you’ve achieved your desired task.

For more great tips about being mindful and getting more done, check out Leo Babauta’s latest book Focus – available as both a free download PDF or a paid edition with bonus content.

Photo Credit: RickyDavid

What’s in a name?

The Beatles autographs

When I was younger, I wrote a lot of letters. Most of them were to professional athletes. The pattern was always the same: Write a letter, stuff a baseball card or photo into the envelope, send it and wait. I was after one thing: a signature.

The majority of those envelopes were met with silence. But some came back, with a name scrawled in glorious black ink across the image. What was once a piece of cardboard was now a work of art; its signatory transformed from an athlete into an idol.

What’s in a name?

What is an autograph? Why do we place such value on the signing of a name?

It’s not the scribble of a sharpie on the photo that instantly multiplies its value. Nor is it the signature, the shape of the words, or the style of the writing. In fact, if someone else were to make the exact same marking, with the exact same marker, the photo would be defaced and plummet in value.


The value of the autograph is not in the signature, the photo, or the marker. The gold comes from the fact that someone paid enough attention to participate in an experience.

While we’re on this philosophical trip, let’s take this a bit further…

You can’t duplicate authenticity

What if we wanted to duplicate our prized signed photo? Fire up the photocopiers and produce an identical clone. This one is easy and obvious – the copy is completely devoid of all value.

Yet if our super famous celebrity signed two identical photos, each is granted the hallowed magical status.


Collectors refer to this as authenticity. You can’t photocopy attention, you can’t duplicate a moment. The interactions have to be unique.

The moral of the story

All of the fuss that we make about autographs boils down to this:

We place incredible value on authentically unique moments of attention paid by individuals of perceived importance.

The value is entirely in the interaction. The actual signature simply serves as proof that it occurred.

Put your signature to work

Here are some thoughts on how to apply this to your business:

We’re all stars, sometimes. You don’t have to make movies or sing pop songs to be important. In the time of need… at the point of sale…in moments of confusion, your importance skyrockets. To someone whose cable was broken, Frank Eliason might as well have been a super hero.

Be on high alert – Keep your eyes and ears open for moments where your attention can increase your value. Twitter search and google alerts get all the fame these days – but giving people attention is equally valuable in your store or on the street.

Sign authentically. Every time - People can detect a fraud from a mile away. Even if you’re answering the same question for the hundredth time, don’t hand out photocopies. Value requires authenticity. Blue Sky Factory does a great job creating authentic customer experiences.

Grow more armsChris Brogan talks about growing bigger ears. But that’s only half of the equation. Signing autographs all day long takes energy. It takes strength. It takes time. To finish the play authentically, as the number of potential interactions increase, organizations have to grow more arms.

How much time and money is your organization spending on becoming famous?

Are you putting an equal amount of thought into what is happens when you get there?

Broadcast media broke us

I’m not about to sit here and say that traditional media is dead. (It’s not.) I’m also not going to get into a discussion about the different ways that traditional broadcast media broken. (Though, It’s certainly due for reinvention)

What is more important than either of those discussions is understanding the way that traditional media broke us.

The break wasn’t violent, so we probably didn’t notice. It happened over time, and carried with it some wonderful side effects. Broadcast media allowed our messages to travel far and wide, with borrowed influence of respected publications.

We got starstruck. We got hooked. We forgot.

We are them

We became dependent on the ability of a few to tell our stories. We forgot that we could tell them ourselves. We forgot that every day people don’t read press releases, they read every day things. We forgot that we could speak directly to these every day people about those every day things. They link between us and them is not the press – the secret is that we are them, and our bonds are shared values and experiences.

We forgot that we’re the real experts. We forgot that we have the authentic perspectives and the true knowledge within our organizations. Journalists and reporters try to tell our stories from the outside looking in. If we all lived on Pandora, then we’re the ones wearing the big blue suits. Journalists are looking for stories, while we live them every day.

Don’t stop

Write your press releases, but then write more. Release your trailer, and then make the film. Tell the whole story. Often. And then tell another. Put them in high traffic spaces, let people share them.

People will come

Telling your own stories has a wonderfully addictive side effect of its own. People will come. People will talk about you, converse with you, and want to share your ideas with eachother.

Know what journalists are always drawn to, even more than a press release on a wire?
A crowd.

So go build one