Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You weren't meant to have a boss

Check out what venture capitalist Paul Graham says about working for a "boss" in this thought provoking post:

I was in Africa last year and saw a lot of animals in the wild that I'd only seen in zoos before. It was remarkable how different they seemed. Particularly lions. Lions in the wild seem about ten times more alive. They're like different animals. I suspect that working for oneself feels better to humans in much the same way that living in the wild must feel better to a wide-ranging predator like a lion. Life in a zoo is easier, but it isn't the life they were designed for.

This doesn't mean that working for a large company is bad, or that there are not problems in small companies or working for yourself. This is essentially the problem when working for a "boss" (in quotes because you can have a manager that doesn't share this characteristic): you lose your sense of individuality and creativity. If you are only there to fulfill a predetermined task so that you are an asset or a liability, you are seen more as a robotic machine than a person who can bring much to the table.

I was just having lunch with a friend of mine who is a hard worker and incredibly smart. He left his company recently because his "boss" didn't think he sat at his desk long enough. But I've also had a "leader" when I worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers that it felt great to work for and encouraged us to grow and be creative. Size doesn't necessarily mean living behind bars, but size certainly increases the chances that bureaucracy starts building the paper walls for zoo development.

One attitude that seems to be distinctive between the "boss" and the "leader" is that the "boss" often tries to control while the "leader" challenges. This is not only true for profit-seeking companies, but for groups that require any amount of organization. There are plenty of not-for-profit organizations and churches that forget that they are there precisely to take risks and serve a greater purpose - and need people freed from zoos to be at their best. At the same time, loss of control doesn't necessarily mean lack of accountability.

If you are the person in charge, ask yourself this question: Would these people follow me willingly, or are they doing this because they feel they have to?


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Thursday, November 19, 2009


Still not sure if all these social networks online are worth troubling about? You are already way behind the curve.

Who are you trying to reach? Because that is where they are.


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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Common sense is the enemy of sticky messages

Do you want to know why that message that you sweated over and poured your soul into fell onto an audience that didn't seem to care nearly as much as you, and really not even as much as you expected?

You thought through it, your ideas and statistics and and bullet points were arranged just so that in the end you could come up with your big idea - but nobody understood why this was the big idea! Or maybe they said, Yeah, we agree, but so what?

Chances are your big idea that you worked over, found studies that agree with you, and you even know, you know, that people aren't really doing is something like "companies need great customer service." You just know that without this idea companies are going to struggle, and you have the proof that they are. But people in the audience, or your boss, or co-workers, or congregants, or your kids' sports team are yawning like it is no big deal!

The Heath brothers want to tell you why no one is listening to your incredibly important message: They are thinking Duh. In Made To Stick (72):

Common sense is the enemy of sticky messages. When messages sound like common sense, they float gently in one ear and out the other. And why shouldn't they? If I already "get" what you're trying to tell me, why should I obsess about remembering it? The danger, of course, is that what sounds like common sense often isn't... It's your job, as a communicator, to expose the parts of your message that are uncommon sense.

As an example, Nordstrom wanted to explain to its employees that they need "great customer service." They could have said that, and employees would have yawned. Instead the chose to provide stories that are shocking if you have ever worked in retail (examples come from Built To Last):

  • The Nordie who ironed a new shirt for a customer who needed it for a meeting that afternoon;
  • The Nordie who cheerfully gift wrapped products a customer bought at Macy's;
  • The Nordie who warmed customers' cars in winter while they finished shopping;
  • The Nordie who made a last-minute delivery of party clothes to a frantic hostess;
  • And even the Nordie who refunded money for a set of tire chains - although Norsdstrom doesn't sell tire chains

Nordstrom understands that customer service is important, but just saying that doesn't get you anywhere. Now all of a sudden you are comparing what you are supposed to do with the examples. Am I providing that level of customer service?

What if instead your message was something more like "Customer Service Is The Only Thing" or "Customers Are More Important Than The CEO." What is the uncommon message, in story form or in a way that surprises or shocks the audience? What if you could tell your idea in a way that actually goes against the grain, yet solves a problem?

Now you have something worth sitting up and listening to.


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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Haiku challenge

My daughter and I decided to do a Haiku challenge this week to push our creativity, challenge ourselves, and have some fun. Each day of the week Autumn is going to pick a subject and we have till the end of the day to write a poem using that format. Here is our first one on "winter":

Bitter wind rebukes
Then snatches the breathe away;
See it floating by.

Sugary sprinkles,
Beautiful white cupcake earth,
Marshmallow snowmen.


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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Anger and certainty

Often when we try to influence someone, we try to do so in a "rational" manner by using stats and logic, because surely if they could only see the "facts" then there is no other conclusion.

What we fail to see is that "facts" rarely convince or persuade anyone, they really just help reassure ourselves that we are right. The best way to convince someone of something? You have to tap into their emotions.

Don't read that as manipulate. What it basically means is that you have to help them care. Which is why it is so hard to understand why we sometimes use argumentative language that only gets people defensive. If the person on the other side of your cause is guarded because of you, your cause is already lost. Check out this observation from Made To Stick (67):

Emotions are elegantly tuned to help us deal with critical situations. They prepare us for different ways of acting and thinking. We've all heard that anger prepares us to fight and fear prepares us to flee. The linkages between emotion and behavior can be more subtle, though. For instance, a secondary effect of being angry, which was recently discovered by researchers, is that we become more certain of our judgments. When we're angry, we know we're right, as anyone who has been in a relationship can attest.

Humor opens us up to possibilities. Two-way conversation provides an avenue for people to find bridges into other possibilities. Persuasion is not a battle to be won, but a joining of arms in a cause. Be strong in your beliefs and wise with your words.


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Monday, November 02, 2009

Don't assume

People are unhappy in your organization, and you don't know it.

In the book All Customers Are Irrational (73), the author talks about customers leaving and management rarely has a clue: "Several studies over the last few years have shown that, of the customers who recently left a company, only 4 percent ever bothered mentioning to the company that they had some sort of issue."

You've been there. You've switched services - phone, gas station, electric, whatever - and you didn't bother telling the old company why. You just moved on.

The problem is, in the organization you are a part of now, people are unhappy and you don't know it. Unless a crisis occurs, you assume everybody feels the same way you do. But they don't. And they will express that unhappiness to everyone except you.

Don't assume you know what is going on. Don't be the person who locks themselves in their office or stays stuck in their cubicle or refuses to take the temperature of the family dynamics.


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