Monday, January 18, 2016

The Man In The Glass

In these tough times, it is easy to get down on yourself and become demotivated by what others have told you or have intimated about your abilities, ideas or success. Just remember, that those who create (either businesses or ideas or art or designs or music or athletic performance) are closest to being god-like. It is during the creation process that we most mimic the Creator and pay it homage. Also, just because you might have outward success, does not necessarily mean you have concurred that monster from within. I came across the following some time ago, and feel it would be appropriate for all those who are experiencing a little self doubt. It might be called "The Man in the Glass" but is appropriate for both genders..
The Man in the Glass (author unknown - circa 1900)
When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day,
Just go to a mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that man has to say.

For it isn't your father or mother or wife,
Whose judgment upon you must pass;
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one starring back from the glass.

He's the fellow to please, never mind all the rest.
For he's with you clear up to the end,
And you've passed the most dangerous, difficult test
If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years.
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be the heartaches and tears
If you've cheated the man in the glass.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why We Hate Change

Over the 100,000 plus years we and our brains have been evolving. During that time, our minds have grown past our primitive lizard brains and as such have brought us intelligence; which in turn has allowed humans to accomplish some fantastic things. Even with all that time and evolution, we and our brains are still guided by these four most important motivators: avoiding threats, minimizing energy, seeking certainty (reducing risk) and obtaining rewards (increasing pleasure).

It is easy to see why these four conditions motivate us not to change, because change usually involved reducing certainty while simultaneously increasing risk and expending energy, often without any guarantee of obtaining a reward. Essentially, due to in a large part to our primordial past, when we find ourselves confronted with change, either on a personal level or say at your company, all the fears from our lizard brain are triggered.

So, how can we get past those fears and anxieties that our genetic makeup makes it so hard to accept change on a personal and group level? Well, lucky for us, intelligence again offers seven (7) ways to make change more readily acceptable and addressable to our ‘fear factors.’

1.) The first is to normalize resistance to change. We have to explain to ourselves and others in our group, that although our brains are naturally wired to resist change, we can take steps to help our brains make changes more easily. We are NOT slaves to our genetics, instead we, each of us, have the power to fight that resistance if we chose to.

2.) Next, believe it or not our brains are motivated and take action when perceived rewards are greater than perceived threats. Not only do we have to see that the risk-to-reward-ratio is tipped on the reward side, but when we are trying to get others to see so too, we need to Invite everyone affected to explore the benefits of the proposed change, and make sure their perceived fears are mitigated and their possible rewards are maximized.

3.) While change always has a certain amount of uncertainty associated with it, as best is possible, you need to meet yours and others brains’ need for certainly throughout the change process. The best way to do this is to break change down into manageable, small-step milestones, time-lines and action items that can be checked off as they are accomplished. These “small victories” can appreciably reduce the risk associated with any change and add certainty as you measure the progress of change.

4.) Attitude is everything and emotions are contagious. You must first believe in and be enthusiastic about your own change if you ever expect to be able to change the hearts and minds of others. When you lead change, do it with as much passion, excitement and enthusiasm as you can muster.

5.) While some of us are more reward-focused, there are others who actually will only be motivated in knowing that not changing is actually riskier than the change itself. To change these minds, including your own, you will need to clearly explain the risks of NOT changing to those who are more threat-oriented or who appreciate threat avoidance as a priority.

6.) No matter how much we fear a thing, or want to avoid risk and pain, or desire rewards and accolades, our brains are conditioned and wired to celebrate and be rewarded with accomplishment. These rewards have to be both on a psychological and physical level. To institute and secure a long-lasting change, it is imperative to recognize progress and wins as the change is underway and completed, not only on an individual level, but also as a team.

7.) Finally, this might sound a little be pat, but the actual experience of the change is its own reward. These rewards come as we grow through a challenge, bond as a team, discover our unknown strengths and abilities, and begin to see our world in a different light. Yes, change is hard, if it were easy, everyone would do it without trepidation. Sadly, it is those lonely few of us who have the ability to seemingly easily and effortlessly implement change. But even with them, it took practice to make accepting change readily.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

So, What About Europe?

Often we wonder how countries get into bad financial difficulties, and sometimes we need an allegory to explain it.  Hopefully the one below can explain how some of the European countries have gotten into their financial mess?

Helga is the proprietor of a bar.  She realizes that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronize her bar.  To solve this problem she comes up with a new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later.

Helga keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers' loans).

Word gets around about Helga's "drink now, pay later" marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Helga's bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in town.

By providing her customers freedom from immediate payment demands Helga gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer - the most consumed beverages.

Consequently, Helga's gross sales volumes and paper profits increase massively.  A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognises that these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases Helga's borrowing limit.  He sees no reason for any undue concern, since he has the debts of the unemployed alcoholics as collateral.

He is rewarded with a six figure bonus.

At the bank's corporate headquarters, expert traders figure a way to make huge commissions, and transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS. These "securities"  are then bundled and traded on international securities markets.

Naive investors don't really understand that the securities being sold to them as "AA Secured Bonds" are really debts of unemployed alcoholics. Nevertheless, the bond prices continuously climb and the securities soon become the hottest-selling items for some of the nation's leading brokerage houses.

The traders all receive a six figure bonus.

One day, even though the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager at the original local bank decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Helga's bar. He so informs Helga. Helga then demands payment from her alcoholic patrons but, being unemployed alcoholics, they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Since Helga cannot fulfil her loan obligations she is forced into bankruptcy. The bar closes and Helga's 11 employees lose their jobs.

Overnight, DRINKBOND prices drop by 90%. The collapsed bond asset value destroys the bank's liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans, thus freezing credit and economic activity in the community.

The suppliers of Helga's bar had granted her generous payment extensions and had invested their firms' pension funds in the BOND securities.  They find they are now faced with having to write off her bad debt and with losing over 90% of the presumed value of the bonds.   Her wine supplier also claims bankruptcy, closing the doors on a family business that had endured for three generations; her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 150 workers.

Fortunately though, the bank, the brokerage houses and their respective executives are saved and bailed out by a multibillion dollar no-strings attached cash infusion from the government.

They all receive a six figure bonus.

The funds required for this bailout are obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class, non-drinkers who've never been in Helga's bar.

Now do you understand?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Five Rules to Being Happy

All of us want to be happy, but few of us actually feel that way most of the time. Of course, we all experience bouts of happiness, but in general, only about 20% of the people are happy most of the time. So, what keeps us from being happy, or more precisely, but experiencing a continuous state of happiness?

There seems to be five mistakes that are common on the road to happiness. Believe it or not, the first one is to try to figure out if we are happy or not! When we try to pursue happiness as a goal, we often want to experience more joy and contentment…than we had before. So, to find out if we are making any progress we start to compare our past state of happiness to our present condition. This creates its own ennui of dissatisfaction. As soon as we start to compare, we move from the experiencing mode into the evaluation mode.

To be truly happy (and there are decades of research on this), you have to be totally absorbed in what you are doing. Think of being engrossed in a good book, solving a tough problem, being in the flow of a sport, or catching up with a great long lost friend. You are in “the zone.” You are so involved in the moment that you lose track of time and pretty much everything in the outside world. Research has shown that when people are in this state, the do not say they are happy because they are too busy concentrating on what they are doing to notice. But in actuality, they are happy. When asked about what they think about these experiences, people usually describe these moments as some of the most enjoyable experiences in their lives.

By looking or searching everywhere for happiness, we often get disrupted in our ability to enjoy what we love doing. We do not get into our flow or find our zone of enjoyment.. We in a sense become less whole. This can often be seen with people being busy, but not being happy. Busy looking for a new job, or friend, or moving to a new state or country and in the process, assessing each new thing but never truly being fully engaged in what you are doing now. Yes, the newness and activity can make you happy for a little while, but it often turns into a vicious cycle that often leads to depression. This depression leads you to begin evaluating your daily projects as less enjoyable and start ruminating about why they are no longer fun.

The second error on this pursuit of happiness is overestimating that impact that any single life circumstance has on our state of bliss. Not only do we overestimate its impact, but the duration of a positive life event. We think having a great job, or moving to an exciting city, or having the perfect relationship, will ‘make’ us happier. How many times have you seen lottery winners lose all their winnings in a short period of time and often say they were happier before? Yes, each new event will give you a bump in excitement or joy, but in a few months, the reality of the daily grind will set in and that shot of adrenaline begins to wear off.

The third error on our quest to being happy is thinking it comes from doing it alone. That happiness is just about yourself as an individual state. While there is some truth about deciding to be or not be happy, looking for happiness alone is a mistake. Focusing on just our own happiness actually makes us less happy. This is not to say that improving your skills, such as with self love, is not good, it is, but happiness is something that needs to be shared in order to be increased, intensified and extended. Just like love. There is a wealth of evidence that shows that the more people try to be happy by themselves, the more lonely they feel, and in some cases this myopic effort leads to depression. Essentially, the more you try to focus on being happy, the less happy you become. Happiness, unlike a skill, cannot be something you establish on your own alone, but something you share.

The fourth mistake is looking for intense happiness instead of just the simple pleasures. Many believe that to be happy that you need strong, overwhelming positive emotions like joy, elation, enthusiasm, passion and excitement. Sadly, research shows that this is not the best path to being truly happy, and that happiness is driven by the frequency, not the intensity of positive emotions. When we aim just for those intense positive emotions, we often miss the small joys that make us truly happy. Joys like a beautiful sunset, or a walk in the woods, the kiss on the nose of a dog, or a good joke at work.

In evaluating how intense an emotion is concerning our happiness, we start to compare it to a higher standard, which make it easier for us to be disappointed. Studies have shown that when people were explicitly searching for happiness, they experience less joy in watching a figure skater win a gold medal or going to a great concert. They were actually disappointed that the event was not more enjoyable or jubilation. In most of the case, people even stated that they would not have felt any better if they had won the gold medal or been the musician playing on stage. And on the down side, studies indicate that an intense positive experience leads us to frame ordinary experience as less positive. So, once you win that gold medal or won a lottery, it is hard to take pleasure in finding a great parking spot or getting all the green lights when you are late.

The last and biggest mistake we make in being happy is thinking that happiness is just around the corner, or it will come tomorrow, or sometime in the future. We do not value being happy right now, right here. Happiness is about being present in the present.

If you worrying about the future or remembering the past; this mental calisthenics will only distract you from being happy. One of the main tenets of happiness is to focus on the present, the here and now, and in developing your joy in the moment. Happiness comes from being completely centered on the here and now. When you live in the present, you are living where life is happening. As I say, “Fear is caused by the uncertainty of the future. Sorrow is caused by the remembrance of the past. Try to keep your thoughts in the present, for the future we will never know and the past we may never understand.” You cannot be truly happy long term if you are constantly thinking about the past or future all the time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Friendship and Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving is upon us, I started thinking of all the "stress" and family turmoil this causes. There is a great book that deals with this titled, Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts that goes into the many instances that case this dissonance in a family, and how this leads to hurtful acts and grudges. The thing I liked most about the book is that it also gives some was on how to "get over" these hurts, false believes, and bad feelings and to stop thinking we are so superior.  

Of course, part of being thankful is the feeling of gratitude, and part of being grateful is the ability to be an great friend and extending friendship.  The story below tells a poem of friendship and thanksgiving that is as timeless as it is beautiful.  I hope you enjoy it and give thanks always.
And a youth said, Speak to us of Friendship.
And he answered, saying: Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.”
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
for that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know of its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and the sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

18 Laws Of Life (Sort Of)

As we move through life on this great big blue marble, we are often reminded of some immutable laws that we see all the time, but never really think about until we are “in it.” While they may not be the 1st or 2nd Laws of Thermodynamics, they seem to have some bearing on how life unfolds.  Hopefully this list will help you realize them when they happen to you.
________________________________________
1. Law of Mechanical Repair- 
After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch and you'll have to pee.

2. Law of Access Gravity - 
Any tool, nut, bolt, screw, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible place in the universe.

3. Law of Visibility - 
The probability of being watched is directly proportional to the stupidity of your act.

4. Law of Random Numbers - 
If you dial a wrong number, you never get a busy signal or voice mail; someone always answers.

5. Variation Law - 
If you change lines (or traffic lanes), the one you were in will always move faster than the one you are in now.

6. Law of the Bath - 
When the body is fully immersed in water, the telephone or door bell will ring.

7. Law of Close Encounters - 
The probability of meeting someone you know INCREASES dramatically when you are with someone you don't want to be seen with.

8. Law of the Ghosts in the Machine - 
When you try to prove to someone that a machine won't work, IT WILL!!!

9. Law of Biomechanics - 
The severity of the itch is inversely proportional to the difficulty in reaching it.

10. Law of Seating- 
At any event, the people whose seats are furthest from the aisle, always arrive last. They are the ones who will leave their seats several times to go for food, beer, or the toilet and who leave early before the end of the performance or the game is over. The folks in the aisle seats come early, never move once, have long gangly legs or big bellies and stay to the bitter end of the performance.

11. The Coffee Law - 
As soon as you sit down to a cup of hot coffee, your boss will ask you to do something which will last until the coffee is cold.

12. Murphy's Law of Lockers - 

If there are only 2 people in a locker room, they will have adjacent lockers.

13. Law of Physical Surfaces - 
The chances of an open-faced jam sandwich landing face down on a floor are directly correlated to the newness and cost of the carpet or rug.

14. Law of Logical Argument - 
Anything is possible IF you don't know what you are talking about.

15. Law of Physical Appearance - 
If the clothes fit, they're ugly.

16. Law of Public Speaking - 
A CLOSED MOUTH GATHERS NO FEET! The contrary applies here.

17. Law of Product Affinity - 
As soon as you find a product that you really like, they will stop making it OR the store will stop selling it!

18. Doctors' Law - 
If you don't feel well, make an appointment to go to the doctor, by the time you get there, you'll feel better. But don't make an appointment and you'll stay sick for days.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Don't be a Diva

Divas act like divas because they have tricked themselves into believing that they are not getting what they are entitled to, and, perversely, that they are not worth what they are getting. Why?

When a diva receives something they feel entitled to, something expected, a thing they believe they have earned, it is not worth much (like candy on Halloween). And when they do not receive it, they are furious.  Furious in a way that is both irrational and unfounded.

Worthiness, on the other hand, is an essential part of receiving anything. (thing of the difference of a participation award versus actually winning something, say the World Series). When a diva feels unworthy, or insecure, any kind response, positive feedback or reward feels like a trick, a scam, the luck of the draw. It is hardly worth anything, because they decided in advance, before they got the feedback, that they are not worthy.

Both entitlement and unworthiness are the twin narratives that make divas bitter, encourage them to be ungenerous, and keep them stuck. Yes, men and women can be divas..bottom line: Don't be a Diva!

(thank you Seth Godin)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Power and Organization

I read an article some time ago by Seth Godin about Power and Organization. In that blog, Mr. Godin claims that most power occurs because one side is better organized than the other. Labor is usually less well organized than management, criminals are usually less well organized than the police and customers are always less well organized than producers.

I have to agree with the assessment, and actually say that in order for any organization or company to be successful, they need to be better organized than their competition. In a real world case, look and the meteoric rise of Barack Obama from State Senator, to U.S. Senator, to President elect. Obama was better organized than Hillary Clinton, and better organized than John McCain. In essence, his "community service" background allow him to tap the Internet, word-of-mouth, multi-level-marketing, and good old fashioned canvassing to develop a grassroots movement that turned into a ground swell and eventually a movement that essentially changed the face of politics forever.

So if you are marketing a product or service make sure you are first well organized (i.e. have a concrete message that shows the benefits) and then use all the networking tools in concert to your advantage in order to create awareness for your product. Your competition will not know how to handle you.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Invent the Future that Has Already Happened

Peter Drucker once noted that companies that seem to have the most success “invent the future that has already happened.” Nice quote, but what does that mean exactly?

How can you invent an unknown future that has already happened? I think what he is trying to say is to look for successes in other industries or processes and copy them in yours. Some call this 'translation' of an idea or concept. Case in point, Dell took made-to-order and catalog sales (what Sears used to do with their Craftsman houses in the early 1900s), and applied it their computer manufacturing. Or how Keller Williams combined the success of ERA with Mary Kay’s multi-level-marketing (MLM) approach to become one of the largest realtors in the nation.

Essentially, how you invent the future is to take something that worked well in one industry, and see if it can be translated (moved) into what you are trying to do in another. Great companies are able to “steal” ideas, methodologies, and processes that worked well in a totally different and sometime alien industry and successfully apply them in their own.

In addition, and from my experience, creating a future that has already happened means that you do NOT want to do anything that has to change human nature or be too complicated. You do not want to re-invent the wheel. You do want to invent better uses for it though. That is not to say you cannot make anything new, you just have to make it similar to what people are used to using already. Remember the mantra: “Cheaper, Faster, Better....and Familiar!”

As an example: DVD players. Even though DVDs have superior quality and features compared to VHS tapes, it was not until manufacturers incorporated the same 'look and feel' found on tape players (including the flashing 12:00) that their acceptance in the mainstream became assured.

Humans are funny, we do not to really work hard at learning anything new, but we can learn something new if we feel that the gain will far outweigh the pain (of the learning curve). It amazes me how many people start off their business plans with the phrase, “This will revolutionize the world of….” News flash: Very few things revolutionized the world: the printing press, electricity, flight and maybe x-rays. Everything else took decades and generations before the “revolution” or more precisely the “evolution” took place. (ARPANET was formed in 1968 btw, so do not say the internet was revolutionary in its acceptance).

Still, if you really want to profit from your efforts, look how to use what is already successful in other industries. You may not be able to predict the future, but you sure can create it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Moldy Middle

While taking statistics during my quest to get an MBA and while earning my engineering degree, the professors always emphasized the importance of finding the statistical mean of any population by using the Central Mean Theorem (a.k.a the highest point of the Bell Curve).

As an engineer, this was essential in order to maximize throughput, minimize cost and waste, and ultimately make a better, faster, cheaper widget. A funny thing happened on the way to the dark side of marketing. I discovered that the only thing in the middle of the road was quite literally dead road kill.

I do not know if you remember stores like Bradlees, Ames and Service Merchandise (just to name a few), but they all folded because the environment changed and they were caught trying to service the mythological “average customer.”

Part of that change came when Wal-Mart began its juggernaut with the discount department store. Wal-Mart did two things right: 1) Focused on “mobile” consumers, and 2) Focused on offering goods to cost (not value) conscious customers. In order to get cost down to bare minimums, Wal-Mart made sure for most of its products, it achieved the lowest price possible for its goods. Wal-Mart is not known for high quality, but it is known for low (and often the lowest) prices.

Still, you cannot buy everything at Wal-Mart (like rechargeable batteries, and Pepperidge Farms). So, there is a window of opportunity for competition (Target), that will be in another blog called Differentiate or Die.

In order to be recognized in the business world you have to stand out. Essentially, if you try to service the average customer, you will essentially look like everyone else. You must Differentiate or Die. Everything else is white noise.

Unfortunately, when most companies try to position themselves to service the average customer (the largest area under the bell curve), find that they actually get the fewest customers and the fiercest competition. Actually, when you position your product or service, you first have to carve out a niche in one of a very few extremes.

These extremes include:
Price (high versus low)
Quality (high versus good or average)
Service (personal versus automated or outsourced)
Features (high versus few; or simple versus complex)
Status / Value (High versus mundane)

Notice volume and profit are NOT on this list, since they are dependent on what extremes you choose.

I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but look at some of the successes:

Starbucks: They offer a high value / high status; high price coffee (and ultimately reached high volume & profit). Had they been another “average” coffee shop they would have not reached the status they had.

Dell: The offered a low(er) cost computer, with lower customer services (automation) but with a high feature set (custom made).

Proctor & Gamble: They segment their product offerings to cover a variety of extremes within a specific segment (toothpaste, shampoos) etc. To date, they are the most successful consumer goods company in the world.

Toyota: They offer extremely good quality, with a rich feature set (high gas mileage, extras, warranty), for a high value customer at a reasonable price.

Of course there are many others. What these companies need to be weary of is the temptation to try to get more market share at the expense of abandoning what made them desirable to begin with. The law of scarcity sometimes is a good thing.

So, if you are starting a new company, or releasing a new product, or looking at how to improve the perception of you existing product, look at what you are tying to do, and see if you are targeting the moldy middle. If you are, make some real effort to move away from that segment as quickly as possible.