Archives for category: Business

design your future

When you review books, and particularly when you are behind in reviewing the stack of books at your bedside like I currently am, you form opinions of them as they wait to be read.

This is, of course, complete nonsense, the very definition of judging a book by its cover. But it happens.

For some reason when “Design Your Future: 3 simple steps to stop drifting and take command of your life” was sent to me, I took an instant dislike to it. I don’t know if it was the cover, or the tag line, or just more likely the subject matter. I rarely find that books meant to inspire me to change my life ever actually do. But I read it more out of a need to get it off my nightstand than anything else.

So by way of contrition let me be the first to say, I was wrong about this book.

I absolutely loved it.

Mr. Quartuccio has managed to mix basic cognitive behavioral therapy tools with basic goal setting and created a rather elegant way of looking at one’s life and life goals, without the pitfalls and baggage that makes people like me hate books of this type. “Design your Future” is an easy read with an elegant layout that does not feel simplistic.
The main idea of “Design Your Life” is that awakening, disrupting, and designing your life is a constant process that puts you in command (not control) of your life and helps you identify what is actually important to you. That most of us drift through life, afraid to make changes, but unhappy with our lives and with vague life goals that show a constant lack of progress, is probably not news to many people. That the stories we tell ourselves reinforce the status quo, and therefore continue to make us miserable, however, may be. What is really unusual is to finish a book with a real sense that these issues are solvable with a little work on your part.

One of the most intriguing tools in the book is the suggestion to write your own eulogy. Not as macabre as you might thing, writing your own eulogy actually gives a destination to your life. How long do you want to live? What are the things that you want to achieve before you die? What is actually important to you? By creating these fundamental goals for one’s life, one can then work backwards to see what the lessor goals need to be while also providing motivation. “I want to lose 20lbs” because I need to lose weight is a little adrift as a life goal, while “I want to lose 20lbs because my doctor says that will help me in my goal to make it to 80 years old” is more anchored into a general scheme to take control of one’s life.

I also really like the book’s emphasis on completing things rather than trying to make them perfect. “Ultimately, perfectionism is a guise for fear. Fear of being judged or being attacked or having your flaws exposed or whatever other weird hang-up you’re carrying. The book you’re reading is littered with so much imperfection it makes me cringe. But guess what? I’ve got a book.”

The nitpicker in me finds the over emphasis on meditation in “Design Your Future” a bit much, however, in fairness to Mr. Quartuccio he does acknowledge that all he wants to do is “ignite a personal curiosity” which he did in me.

Design Your Future is a surprising and useful book that talked directly to me. Perhaps it was just the right book at the right time; however, who cares. It’s a great read and made me think.

I’m off to write my eulogy.

age of infuence
I’ve been following Neal, as a voice on marketing and social media, for easily 10 years.

When he announced the opportunity to buy his new book in advance, receive a signed copy, and be mentioned in the acknowledgments for to helping to support the book’s creation; I took him up on his offer – LinkedIn paying off once again.

You can find me mentioned, and neatly bisected, between page ix and x.

Fame at last.

I delve into this minutia because Neal’s book deals with, and makes the case for, influence and influencers. In how to both leverage and engage influencers in a successful business relationship, but also on how to be a successful influencer in the first place.

Influencer Marketing has received rather a bad wrap outside of the marketing world – particularly by the business community. This is mainly due to news stories of millennials traveling the world, and expecting hundreds of dollars in free goods and services in return for a good word on social media of dubious value. It is also not helped by stories of influencers using their networks to “take revenge” on businesses they feel slighted by; or who have spurned their advances.

“The Age of Influence” makes the case for influencer marketing to actually be an extension of normal social media engagement, taken to its next logical level. Those of us that have our own brands, and brands that we work for, on social know that our own personal posts are treated much more favorably by algorithm gods than brand business posts. It’s a “pay to play” world.

Influencer marketing leverages the personal voice for business purposes. Where “The Age of Influence” really succeeds is in showing the reader that influencer marketing should really be about the relationship between the brand, the influencer, and their larger social following. That the pinnacle of influencer marketing is not a paid Instagram post by someone famous. The pinnacle is rather the partnership, on a long-term basis, between a fan of a product or service, who also has their own fans who trusts the message because of the messenger. Trust is based on authenticity.

There is, of course, a tendency for brands to want to control their message, voice, and overall look. This is normal. As marketing professionals, we spend a lot of money, time, and energy into creating a look and personality for a brand that we are happy with. However, to do this with influencers is to stifle their natural creativity and voice that made them influencers in the first place. Likewise, influencers are not content creation adjuncts to the marketing department. Working with influencers, whose followings come in all shapes and sizes, is a partnership that could be allowing them to interview staff, get a sneak peek at a product or service, or giving discount codes, or products, to followers. The more successful the influencer, the more like working with a traditional media company the relationship becomes. But at its core, when influencer marketing is successful it is about a relationship where both parties are happy and getting what they want out of the collaboration.

There are significant legal issues with paid collaborations between influencers and brands. And while “The Age of Influence” does not deal with this in depth, it does warn of the pitfalls and make it clear that these are issues to address with any campaign that must be taken seriously.

“The Age of Influence” is much more than a “how to” manual of influencer marketing; it is a treatise on how influence is actually about boosting engagement and having a more dynamic relationship between customer and brand. How in its earliest of stages, influencer marketing is indistinguishable for just good social media engagement. As Neal states in the book, don’t get too focused on the tools; but the tools to get started are all in “The Age of Influence.”

If you feel that influencer marketing is not for you; “The Age of Influence” begs to differ, and if your interest is already there then it is the all-important bible.

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advice trap

When the nice people at MBS Works sent me a copy of The Advice Trap to review, I was intrigued by its premise: That we all have an inner advice monster that gets in the way of us getting better results from the people we manage, coach, or mentor, because we talk too much.

This is me in a nutshell. And while I freely admit it, I find it difficult to do anything about it.

Mr. Bungay Stanier is also the author of The Coaching Habit which I have not read. This is unfortunate, because a failing of the Advice trap is to act as too much of a sequel / advertisement for Mr. Bungay’s other book. But if you can look past this, and its other main issue (see below) there is actually valuable and worthwhile advice for all those who are routinely asked their opinion. This is, of course, the central paradox behind the Advice Trap, it is a book about how giving advice is a trap and a monster, which can only relay this idea by… giving advice. To Mr. Bungay Stanier’s credit he does freely admit and deal with this irony.

A central theme of The Advice Trap is that giving advice is generally more about the person giving the advice and does not actually solve the issue at hand, never mind actually benefit the person who is doing the asking. What the Advice trap does is give the reader tools to help them stop immediately leaping to give their own take on what they have been asked, but to dig deeper, be more curious about the issue, and see if by working with the questioner that a better solution cannot be arrived at. It also makes the point that the best solution may very well not be arrived at by the yourself and how to be prepared for that.

These are powerful and useful tools and ideas. Framing them as “The Advice Monster” is actually close to genius. It also goes deep into why as leaders and managers we often fall back on giving advice when it does not work as well as we think it does, and rarely does anything for our team’s growth.

That managers need to be more empathetic and have humility is not new to anyone who has read a business book in the past twenty years. Where the Advice Trap succeeds is in actually giving practical advice (there’s that paradox again) on how to do that while in the middle of leading a team or coaching an employee.

This brings me to The Advice Trap’s main failing: it is so jargon heavy that it becomes overwhelming at a couple of points, and gets in the way of what the author is trying to achieve. That Mr. Bungay Stanier has created a useful toolbox is not in doubt, but that tool box can be very difficult to open and to remember which tool to use when is a problem.

This is a book to take ideas from and to adapt and use them for your work environment. Which indeed seems to be how the book was written in the first place given the references to other works. The Advice Trap is a good book for both new and experienced managers, because we are human and we all fall into the same trap – The Advice Trap. It makes for uncomfortable reading in places; its never nice to see one’s unconscious motivations laid bare, but The Advice Trap is important because business books so rarely challenge our own assumptions about ourselves.

This is a challenging book on multiple levels, but that should not let that stop you using it to tame your advice monster. Those monsters need taming and the Advice Trap has the tools to help.

 

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Routine.

We have routine.

“Good morning “while waiting for the thermometer all clear.

The snatched moments of laughter – less than before, but not gone altogether.

Some days are busy, some days less so.

But the days have less form than before, less shape. Less to keep them in memory. Less to measure them by.

We can measure time in policies and protocols that have come and gone. Some that we never used at all. And some that may still need to be dusted off.

Lets hope not.

Businesses that have a healthy culture see this culture bear fruit, and weather the storms, disagreement, and fear.

Businesses that have culture problems are finding that now it is too late to try and fix it.

Crises act like a magnifier. Just what you had before only more so.

Like all situations there are rarely heroes and villains, the world is more complicated than that. There are heroic acts and acts worthy of villains.

The fractures in teams, departments, and relationships are tested. How resilient we are, depends on the history we have; good or bad.

Managers and leaders, have a new appreciation of the J.K. Rowling’s Snape; doing wrong things for the right reasons; being perceived as the bad guy, and shouldering that burden silently, when so much is about survival and the greater good.

But all of this is fine. We are okay.

In that awful phrase, over used and misunderstood; this is the new normal.

This is us digging in for the long term.

Reassuring clients over misleading headlines.

Addressing customer service issues like the old days.

Accepting praise where we can get it.

Ignoring Yelp reviews – because.. really?

Creating a social life by computer.

Valuing connections like never before.

These are people I choose to go through a pandemic with.

These are the people I will get through a pandemic with.

 

*Apologies to Dr. Michael “The Harry Potter Vet” Miller for appropriating his Snape analogy. You can check out Michael’s work on Instagram: @harrypottervet

 

letters

Ten Days.

It’s been ten days since we stopped allowing clients into our building.

I could not believe it today when I made an updated client blog post, you can read it here if want, that it had been ten days since the last one.

It feels like three days ago.

The days have melded together.

We are getting into our stride, and everyone is adapting.

Some genius (not me) suggested numbering our parking spots and marking them out in chalk. Someone else suggested papering basic instructions and our phone number on our windows.

But at home it all melts into one.

Again, I’m still very lucky. I’m employed and well. I have a vaguely normal schedule. I’m not on the front lines, even in the veterinary world. Its more, so much more, than many.

But I can only decompress and try to relax, or go back to work.

I’m either on or off. There is no middle ground.

It’s grief.

That’s the only word I can find for it.

Grief for the dog park.

Grief for dinner with colleagues or friends.

Grief for home projects, for which I always have had boundless energy.

Grief for Hockey, I miss my Golden Knights.

Grief for meeting with my team, usually the highlight of my working week.

Grief for my town, everyone else’s playground that I call home.

Grief for how things used to be.

I am so spoiled.

My loss is measured in an unwillingness to do vaguely productive things with my free time.

Until my friends start to get sick, as one did today.

Until my friends tell me of clinic owners wanting to cut their losses and sell.

Until my 90-year-old Mom starts off our weekly transatlantic phone call with “I’m not sick.”

Until the worry, fear, anger, frustration, boil over into words.

It’s been ten days since we stopped allowing clients into our building.

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The worst week of my working life.

I’m sure it is the same for a lot of you.

I’m lucky.

We were prepared.

We had a plan.

We are open.

I have a job.

I am well (so far).

But I am pretty beaten.

The constant planning, changing of the plan, and then changing again.

Messaging to staff and clients, much of it contradictory, from day to day.

The difficult conversations; “it’s not enough” through to “it’s too much.”

The constant conversations, decisions, and monitoring of decisions.

Getting into work first, and leaving late.

Snapping at people who are just trying to keep things light and being their normal upbeat selves. Or whom are not as quick at checking their email as you would like.

Trying to enforce social distancing.

Seeing the town I love, and I’m proud to call my home, look like it is dying.

The constant, ever present, worry about colleagues, friends, and family.

I am not ashamed to say I cried at my desk yesterday.

But I did not cry because of all of the above. I cried because I as posted that we would be cutting our hours, not letting clients into our building, and fearing, as I have for weeks, for what is to come, a client responded:

“So typical of Craig Road, they care about their patients, and pet parents. ❤️”

And what I thought about is my colleagues.

The team I work with.

The ones who have done everything they can to help prepare, implement new policies, and new cleaning regiments. Who have been dedicated to ensuring we had the basic supplies we need to be there for our patients. Who accepted daily temperature checks like is was the most normal thing in the world. Those who have had really bad days and still are at work, and want to work, to look after our clients, and our patients.

My Team.

The internal culture of workplaces can be a fragile thing. But it can also be resilient. They can even thrive in adversity. People check in on other people. Making sure that their colleagues are OK.

Making sure that I’m OK.

The stuff of nightmares, does not have to be a nightmare.

Undoubtedly, the worst is yet to come.

We will get through it.

Things will be different.

We will have changed.

But we will also have grown, and we will have our teams with us.

Stay safe.

hitmakers

Why do some ideas become wildly popular while others languish in obscurity?

Derek Thompson’s riveting, and impeccably researched, book; “Hit Makers,” postulates that there is a formula to making ideas popular. It argues that knowing how manipulate ideas to create successful products has major implications, but that it is also just as important is to understand when successful products are the result of manipulation.

At its core, Hit Makers asked two questions:

  1. What is the secret to making products that people like, whether they are music, movies, TV shows, or Apps in the vast cultural landscape of today?
  2. Why do some products fail, while similar ideas catch on and become massive hits?

Mr. Thompson tells us that people are both neophiliac, a love of the new, while also being neophobic, a fear of the new. People who are hit makers marry old and new ideas. They create familiar surprises. People tend to gravitate to the familiar – the most popular movies in recent times have all be sequels or reimagining of existing properties. People want new things, but they want those new things to seem familiar.

The most popular theory of modern content creation is that if you make great content, it will be recognized, shared, and go viral. However, Mr. Thompson states; “Content might be king, but distribution is the kingdom.” Catchy tunes that do not get air play on the radio will remain unknown. New tunes get on the radio by being new, but being familiar enough to listeners that they do not turn off.

Repetition, repeated exposure which creates familiarity, can actually be used to engineer popularity in groups of people. Politicians have known this for years. Consider this speech by Barack Obama:

“For when we have faced down impossible odds, when we’ve been told we’re not ready or that we shouldn’t try or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.
It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can.
It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can.
It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can.
It was the call of workers who organized, women who reached for the ballot, a president who chose the moon as our new frontier, and a king who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the promised land: Yes, we can, to justice and equality.
Yes, we can, to opportunity and prosperity. Yes, we can heal this nation. Yes, we can repair this world. Yes, we can.”

Or this speech by Winston Churchill;

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Mr. Thompson makes a convincing case, although not guaranteed, that popularity can, and has been for centuries, been manufactured and manipulated, but that it can also occur spontaneously by specific sets of circumstances.

Hit Makers is a starting point for understanding how and why things become popular and how we can get our ideas to find their audience, and what we can do to create that audience in the first place. It postulates that we misunderstand terms such as “viral” and “influencer” therefore ideas are not spread in the ways that we hope.

Hit Makers is a phenomenal book for anyone who sees to understand ideas and popularity. It draws from history and the present day. It should, for better or worse, change the way you share ideas and see how ideas change the world.

new econmics
The New Economics was first published in 1993; the year of its author, W. Edwards Deming’s, passing. Now on its third edition; however, it is arguably more relevant now than it has ever been. Deming has never received the acclaim in the United States that he undoubtedly deserves. He seems to be one of those authors that people cite, but rarely read.

The New Economics does not feel like an almost 30-year-old business book. Its ideas seem fresh and its voice is refreshingly new. If it was written today, and there are several books that focus on several of his core ideas such as the excellent Measures of Success, it would be hailed as a master piece of business literature.

Deming is an advocate for the process. This is often interpreted reducing the people is those processes as mere cogs in the machine. This, however, is unfair to Deming who is a believer if people driving the process. He is also a believer in management managing by taking responsibly for its failures. “The operator is not responsible for quality.” Says Deming. “That is the responsibility of management in conjunction with the customer.” He then proceeds to prove it with his famous red bead experiment (see below.)

Deming was an advocate for a sensible use of numbers, but Deming also believed that “We manage by theory prediction, not by numbers.” The use of numbers can help inform the theory, but really it is the manager’s responsibility to make that intuitive leap. “He who innovates, and is lucky, will take the market” says Deming. As an example of this Deming uses training. We never use numbers to justify training, but everyone does it – why?

I find Deming, and The New Economics, particularly interesting when it comes to goal setting and the importance of having a system which is often overlooked, even with our obsession with S.M.A.R.T. goals. “Companies have aims. With goals you must have by what method. Numerical goals need processes. A numerical goal without a process is meaningless.”

This is a heavy and involved book that is probably not for everybody. But it focuses on the way that management is performed. Not in how we motivate out employees to do their tasks better, but in how we design those tasks so they are naturally performed better. A the red bead experiment points out we often grade and evaluate employees based on the results of a system that they have little to no control over. We so rarely focus on process in business, we leave bad processes in place and then pour money and energy into managing employees who by their very actions are telling us that the problem is the process.

It is not too late to learn the lessons that Deming was trying to teach us 30 years ago.

It is about time.

 

The Culture Code

It is easy to dismiss “The Culture Code, The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” by Daniel Coyle within the first few pages as I very nearly did.

This, however, would be a mistake.

There are two initial problems. The first is in the choice of companies, or organizations, that are used as case studies. In the time since the book was written, and even since its publication in January of 2018, two of these heavily featured companies have undergone significant cultural upheaval and it is hard not to see those case studies through the prism of hindsight. Pixar lost John Lasseter due to revelations in the wake of the #meetoo scandal. And Zappos, to add to the woes mentioned in the book regarding the Downtown Project, lost 18% of its workforce, including a significant proportion of management, due to its all or nothing adoption of Holacracy. To be fair to both companies, they both seem to have survived these events and continue to grow; but it does make the reader question the book from the start.

In addition, it is hard to shake the impression from the initial introduction and chapters, that The Culture Code and its talk of “belonging cues” is more about hacking interpersonal relationships and the manipulation of people through our actions and specific phraseology. Which just feels wrong.

This, however, is not the case.

What the Culture Code has unpicked is the remarkable reasons why teams of people work well together, and why they don’t work. We presume teams of skilled individuals will produce skilled results. And we are wrong as Mr. Coyle points out. Belonging cues, which can take the form of active listening, light touching, showing people where they fit into an organization, the closeness of employees’ desks, and the language we use, creates a continuous sense of safety. Even just simple “thank yous” from managers, and them picking up trash, can signal that “we are all in this together” and that they serve the group.

As with most culture research, The Culture Code repeatedly emphasizes that great cultures start at the top. One of the ways to create a safe space for the group is for leaders to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is a significant belonging cue. Vulnerability sparks cooperation and trust, and asking for help as a manager, or leader, sends a clear signal that you have vulnerabilities. Interestingly, vulnerability can be contagious with the obvious benefits to the group. Difficult and painful interactions can actually help create a more bonded team through shared vulnerability.

While creating a sense of safety and vulnerability in the group makes for a better team, Mr. Coyle turns to storytelling to give that team focus. Groups that have successful cultures repeatedly and consistently, often to the point of redundancy, tell their story. Simple beacons, such as slogans, phrases, or imagery, focus attention to the shared goal. “High purpose environments are filled with vivid signals” the Culture Code reveals referring to Pixar having images of Woody and Buzz Lightyear in their buildings or the Seals having a piece of the World Trade Center in their lobby.

“Build a language to build behavior.”

Do we really need to tell nurses and other staff that a particular surgery is better for the patent, and that they should speak up if they see a mistake, even by a doctor, being made? The answer the Culture Code gives us is a resounding yes.

“The value of signals is not in the information but that they orientate the team to the task and to one another. What seems like repetition is in fact navigation.”
The Culture is that most unique of books. A book arranged and filled with great ideas and real-world examples of those ideas in action. Impeccably researched, the march of time notwithstanding, and well written, The Culture Code is a leadership book about daily interactions and grand visions. It is a management book showing the pitfalls and routes to success.

I’m better for having read it, and I have no doubt that it will be a book I return to and recommend to other managers.

anti social cover

Warning: This book may alter your perceptions on how the world currently works and your part in democracy’s downfall.

Anti-Social Media is actually misnamed.

This book is an indictment of Facebook and to a lessor extent the other social media sites that seek to emulate its success. What initially seems to be the book’s raison d’être; an examination of the overreach, and dubious business practices, that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, is actually far more wide spread, nuanced, and ultimately damning. With possibly its most revealing allegation being that Cambridge Analytica were never anything more than Snake Oil Salesmen; while Facebook’s own employees worked directly for political campaigns in multiple countries with almost universal damage to democracy and the pollical process in the countries in which they worked.

Mr. Vaidhyanthan’s case is that Facebook is on its way to becoming, or indeed has already become, the operating system of our lives. While it has been beneficial in general terms for individuals; improving communication with friends and relatives, and even people who we would never have hoped to keep in touch with before its arrival, Facebook has done significant damage to society as a whole.

Facebook’s success, Mr. Vaidhyantha argues, is based on two elements. The first being that Facebook is deliberately engineered to be addictive; rewarding interactions likes, and shares, in similar ways to how casinos keep their guests playing. The second element of Facebook’s success being that it has become “one of the most effective advertising machines in history.” Facebook knows so much about us, and offers advertisers such levels of targeting that were never before dreamed of, that it is unparalleled as a sales tool.

If Facebook was just an engine for kitten & puppy pictures, along with family updates, and the odd attempt to sell us things, it could quite possibly be the force for good it sincerely believes that it is. However, Facebook has become a major factor in the political world. Facebook encourages weak ties between people, and is great for declaration and reaction. It undoubtedly helps political activists, activism, hyperbole, and alarm. Facebook; however, is useless for political discourse and deliberation. Posts which do not create strong reactions one way of the other fall foul of Facebook’s algorithm and are just not delivered in news feeds.

Although the tone of Anti-Social Media, is one of alarm, and it makes a strong case for the damage that Facebook and its ilk do to the world; the author does have some interesting suggestions as to possible ways to close the pandora’s box that Mark Zuckerberg has opened. If fact, Mr. Vaidhyanthan’s historical comparison of Facebook with the East India Company, and their “shared zeal for making the world a better place,” should give us all pause for thought. Facebook’s users are currently its product – Facebook sells highly targeted, and therefore highly effective advertising. Facebook could be forced to treat its users like clients; much like lawyers or financial consultants. If Facebook was to become an informational fiduciary, the argument goes, an only use data in ways that do not harm us, it may finally understand the difference between advertising that tries to sell us products, and political propaganda.

The Anti-Social Media is more than an inditement of the social medial filter bubble and Facebook creating more divides while its intentions are to bring us together. The book asks us to look at the changes in society, and in ourselves, as we have been using Facebook as an operating system. It asks us if the kitten and puppy pictures are worth it? Interestingly it does not ask us to give up on Facebook or Social Media; but to understand its societal dangers and the recognize our responsibilities in doing something about it.

This is the book that did not make me give up Facebook.

It did make me delete Facebook off my phone.

And renew a year’s subscription to a highly reputable news organization.

It’s that good.

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