From July 2011

Staying upright on the social treadmill

It used to be you could master your craft whether writing, design, marketing, PR, photography, etc. and be okay. As a business, you could create a great product or service, build a strong customer base and serve them well for years as long as you stayed relatively current. No more. A successful business today will often see many me too players nipping at their heals, waiting for a misstep to overtake them in short order. Your colleagues are racing alongside to keep up with the latest tools.  Customers have so many GOOD options for most areas of their life that they might not miss you if you go out of business. Or even if you don’t, there’s always the lure of the shiny new thing waiting.

It’s not only exhausting to keep up with all of the social platforms, but doing so distracts you from doing what you do best. The endless product launches dulls the senses. Makes it hard to discern what’s relevant from what’s not. The constant pursuit of shiny is futile because you’ll never be able to engage with all of them. And fortunately, nor will your customers.

That’s why you always need to look beyond the hype – even ignore most of it – and question why you need to do anything different. In Rework by Jason Fried he talks about hiring when you feel pain. When it hurts too much to keep going without that you’ve demonstrated the need for that new person. I think the same thing goes for social technologies. It’s still early. Tools and platforms will continue to come and go at an epic pace in the online gold rush.

I took a two-week vacation this month – my first ever – and pretty much hopped off the social treadmill. It was refreshing. I liked not feeling distracted by the latest Tweet, email, and post. I didn’t really miss it. Nor do I think I lost too much in the process by hopping off the treadmill. In fact, I wasn’t sure I wanted to hop back on. The analog life was pretty darn cool. There’s no substitute for spending quality time with people in real life. I’m not sure there ever will be.

It’s made me question more the why, what for and how best to . . . . Time is our most precious resource yet we waste so much of it. We wait to take action. We spend time on email and Twitter and Facebook and now Google+ is rapidly ascending to further fragment our attention (and something I know I need to take note of as a marketer). Yet what do we have to show for it? When there’s an app called Freedom that locks you out of your online world for a period of time, you know we need to look deeper into our usage of online platforms. Are they an excuse to not focus on moving the big rocks? Are we so distracted and parsed that we’ve really lost the ability to think critically and deeply? To do less better?

Steven Pressfield suggests we not read blogs or spend much time online in order to do the work. The question I have is how many successful people do you know that aren’t spending their time online but rather making deals and building things? I’ve noticed many people jump online when they need to launch, build buzz and gain customers only to back off when they’ve reach their goal in order to develop what’s next. I happen to have curated a short list of blogs I read regularly, but am focused when I do – and read far fewer than I used to.

There’s no right speed to run the treadmill. For some it’s crawling along at 1 or 2. For most of us in business, we need to find the speed that’s sustainable. The speed that keeps us connected without keeping us from doing the work we’re here to do. We’re in a very interesting place with a stubborn economy, jobs that are never coming back and technology that makes everyone into a creator, producer and potential influencer.  But I think not everyone needs to be online. And those that have their social treadmills locked into 8, 9, or 10 may be out of control and need to dial it back a bit. It’s that balance thing.

Taking time to unplug from the treadmill for a couple weeks felt like a luxury. And reiterated the value of quality time. My advice to you is to do the same. See if you really miss anything. Then when you hop back on, make it count. Assess what you have to show for your time invested.

I’ve said it before, Twitter has been the most amazing experience for me as I’ve met some incredible people and cherish the connections. These are people I never would. If you’re not building quality relationships, retool and rethink your approach. The only reason to be on the social treadmill is to build relationships. The kind that can spill over into real life and enrich it.

A business case for nice.

I’ve been reading a bit lately about how nice people get passed by for promotion in business because they’re not seen as competent or powerful. They’re not seen as the players that can make things happen as well as someone who doesn’t treat their teams or colleagues as well.  Apparently, power comes from putting others down, asserting superiority and having a commanding presence.

Based on experience, I do think there’s a lot of validity to this argument. Leading by fear can work to a point. And certainly exhibiting supreme confidence on the job is attractive.

But I really hate to think that you cannot succeed by treating people well. By showing respect, compassion and being basically a nice person. I think with nice leaders their strength and power is more subtle. It’s often hard to put a finger on. So we gravitate to the obvious power plays when looking for examples of strong leadership.

Nice often gets a bad rap. It’s seen as soft, frivolous and slow to get results. Yes, it can be. But being nice doesn’t mean you don’t have a backbone. It doesn’t mean you’re not confident and self-assured.

To be successful requires confidence and a willingness to take a stand even if others disagree with you. But you can still be nice about it. Not phony. But matter-of-fact, grounded, and open minded. It takes a sense of confidence to be willing to show vulnerability and admit when you’re wrong. And to me this is a powerful quality.

An example of nice in action is Zappos. I just finished Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh and find this proof that nice works. It was more powerful than I thought – the lengths they go to wow customers and treat their employees and vendors with respect. That there’s room for both sides to win. They worked hard to earn their success. It was not a certainty and there were many opportunities to fail. Yet they persevered to become wildly successful.

The board didn’t always like the nice. They wanted a focus on selling shoes over treating their employees so well. Yet it’s because these employees are treated well that they’re successful. Makes it easy to wow customers because of a passion for the company. You don’t get that with a sledgehammer.

They also have high standards for who they hire and things you can be fired for. Namely, not living the core values of the company. Core values everyone can commit to and measure results against. They’re baked into the culture. It’s because of these core values and strong culture that they can be nice. Because they hire and train for it. If you don’t invest in your company culture, then I believe nice doesn’t work so well. In that case nice equates to insincerity. You don’t get the buy in and passion from your employees. Customers don’t get the wow treatment and thus are less loyal. Not to mention less likely to refer.

Zappos also had to go through layoffs at one point yet did so with grace and openness. They were not afraid to do what was necessary for the business ahead of time. That requires strength and a belief in the vision by everyone top to bottom. And didn’t require sacrificing being nice.

When you hire against solid core values, you make it easier to be nice in the long term. You build a sustainable competitive advantage that doesn’t require you to be mean and underhanded.

Nice pays dammit. I refuse to think it doesn’t. Read Delivering Happiness and tell me if you don’t believe that. I know you can also find many examples when the opposite leads to success. Just don’t confuse nice with weak or flaky.  They’re too different things entirely.

 

 

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