From Business

Overcoming ego in building teams

The best teams are selfless. But each of us has an agenda. A lens though which we view the world. Unless each of us commits to the greater vision of the team, we’ll undermine the team success for our own benefit. Yet conversely if we give ourselves selflessly to the team we’ll get the rewards in the long term.

Our lizard brains though trick us into focusing more on short term gains. Just look at Wall Street for how prominent that approach is. Few are committed to building companies with legacies. The norm is on how fast you scale and exit. Grabbing a nice pot of cash on your way out. I get the logic in this. Who doesn’t want to be rich?

Yet for society to thrive longterm, we need to think more about building selfless teams. The kinds of teams that can win. And win big. If we get out of our own way.

I read recently Scott Adams’ focus on systems over goals as a means towards success. If you can build a system within a team and operate effectively within that system, you should hit your success.

Profit and loss

If you don’t make any money you won’t be long in business. That’s pretty obvious. And starting up, you need a cushion to do your best work and secure the best opportunities or you’ll make poor decisions just to keep the lights on. And that’s not confidence inspiring.

Taking more in than you pay out is a basic recipe for business success.

And then there are the other profits and losses. The people along the way you need to be successful and who you lose when you take advantage of them in a zero sum gain.

Big businesses think too much of squeezing customers and squeezing employees to bolster profits. Loopholes, shortcuts, lies can lead to greater profits. And greater losses when it comes crashing down.

How you earn your profit matters. It can even differentiate you from your competition. What if more companies focused on building long term sustainable businesses. Maybe they grew at measured rates rather than exponential. And maybe they were the types of businesses that lasted decades and gave more back to the earth than they took. Made those that worked for them earn enough to live good lives. Created community in the face of a world lacking today in community.

Maybe if more companies did this, we’d be on our way to mending the great divide in the country. Maybe it would even pave the way to sustainable solutions to climate change.

At the rate we’re going, most businesses are making profits at the expense of the earth. And most of us are consuming at the expense of the earth. At some point the profits enjoyed will become huge losses.

You might feel powerless to act. But what if each of us took micro steps each day in our businesses, jobs, lives to reverse course. Might we make more profits in the end? Live better lives?

Just imagine.

You are here

While you were busy checking Facebook wondering what your friends were up to, posting to Instagram, checking Twitter and YouTube, others were creating. Writing. Drawing. Designing. Thinking. Shipping.

We often regret the time we waste on things that seemed productive in the moment, lamenting where the time went. If we’d achieved our goals and dreams we’d look back with satisfaction. Yet how many of us do that? You can’t go back. Time once expended is gone.

On the flip side, parsing your time into massive productivity slices isn’t the answer either. Being busy organizing, cleaning, responding is just that: keeping you busy with the false illusion you’re doing something productive. True productivity is doing the right things. And only you know what those are. Those nagging goals and dreams currently unfulfilled.

I’m not advocating a slovenly lifestyle. Clean. And stay that way as that frees your mind from the clutter of distraction. And dust bunnies everywhere are just gross. Whether in your head or your home or your office.

There’s also the argument that idle time is also time well spent. Time where you sit quietly with your thoughts. Where the digital is not present. Ideas happen here. Do this.

Don’t go another year and look back with regret on where the time went without anything to show for it. Look back next year and smile at the experiences you enjoyed. The work you did. And the difference you made. And if you achieved your dreams this year, where are you going next?

Because they said so

They said this was the best thing.
They said we should go here.
They told us this was the best place to live.
They said fevers are bad.

How often have you wondered who ‘they’ is?

I learned yesterday that since 1955 Tylenol invented the concept that fevers are bad and you need to treat them fast. And Tylenol will do the trick. In reality, fevers are your body kicking into action to heal itself. And fevers of 103 or 104 degrees – considered extremely high and certainly not fun – are not bad for you. Tylenol told you they were and it became the truth. And so you went to the doctor to get help. And doctors had to jump on the bandwagon. Parents everywhere panic when their little ones get a fever.

There are many ‘theys’ telling you what to do. The reality is only you know what is right for you. What ‘they’ tell you is one data point often worth considering. Often not. The best is relative. Your mileage will vary.

We frequently look for someone else to tell us what’s right because it’s easier. We don’t want to get it wrong. Yet oftentimes getting it wrong is how we grow assuming it’s not a life threatening decision. Which most are not.

Ask more questions

How often do you ask questions before blindly doing something you’re asked? Do you seek to understand the ‘why’ behind the mission or just follow it?

I ask a lot of questions in business and personal. I am curious to learn more, to understand why we’re doing something. What makes someone get up in the morning. It’s a way of sussing out a bigger story and perhaps finding more innovative solutions. Or connecting the dots in a counter intuitive way that resonates.

When I interview prospective job candidates, it’s all about asking thought-provoking questions and I enjoy the process of learning about people. I find that those that don’t ask me questions are not so curious. They tend not to think critically and are thus less equipped to navigate ambiguity and change. They are less likely to be able to create a map when there is none.

Be a curious explorer. Questions may beget more questions and take you down a path you hadn’t initially envisioned. A path that leads to stronger outcomes.

What questions are you not asking today But should?

The slippery slope of betrayal, Volkswagen style

I’ve been a fan of Volkswagen for many years. I embrace their quirks because the cars are fun to drive. Solid, well-built, safe. The Germans know how to engineer and build cars that inspire the driver. Even my lowly VW Golf which I had for 12 years with hardly a problem in that time was inspiring. I never even had to replace the brakes. The VW Bug smiles at you on the road. How can it not make you happy just looking at it?

But there are many detractors. Many remember the days when Audis were hopelessly unreliable. Many experience electrical problems in Volkswagens of the 90s and 00s. But the passionate fans endure the glitches because the cars are so fun. They’re not ordinary, vanilla cars. They have personality.
Imagine my disappointment when I learned that a brand I loved admitted they cheated. Not a little cheat. But a blatant, deliberate effort over years all in the name of making a buck. The cars look so innocent. I almost went for one of the TDIs. They’re really good cars. Except for now they’re not so much because they cheat. They’re liars these cars. Marketed as ‘Clean Diesels’ – great performance while being environmentally conscious – is a farce. That they asked for a green seal in the U.S. in 2011 shows their arrogance.
It takes years to build trust but a moment to shatter it. A few smart people at Volkswagen torched the brand. Yet many great people work for the company. In Wolfsburg, generations of families have built their careers and bet their futures on being a part of VW. And that is all threatened because some smart engineers who thought they knew better than anyone everyone else found a way to cover their tracks. To avoid forgoing years of investment in new engines by engineering a way to cheat on the emissions tests. Perhaps it was pressure from their bosses or fear of failure that motivated them. Betting they wouldn’t get caught. But they did.
They could have adopted – and almost did – Daimler’s Bluetec technology which likely could have avoided the ‘need’ to cheat. And now we have the nasty aftermath that could cost many innocent VW employees their jobs, upending families and damage a company town.

The dominos are falling. It’s a slippery slope.

So what now? They need dramatic change and fast to restore faith in the company. They need transparency. And they need to buy back every single car or offer to replace it with an equivalent model. Unless they can engineer a fix that retains the promised performance and fuel economy. It’s looking they’re opting for a fix which looks like it will take 10 hours per car and won’t begin until some time next year. But now 480,000 people will have to make time to drop their cars off to do so.

Was it worth it Volkswagen? I think not. And right now I think you don’t think it was either. But how many other companies are or will take such actions to sell their wares? Others make think they’re different. The slope is slippery.

We like the underdogs

Apple was the cool, quirky company who could. The one many derided as toys and for those wanting something special. And then they got big.

Starbucks was the cool third place you’d go to connect with friends and associates. Where you’d hang out and write witty prose or dream up your next adventure. And then they got big.

Apple, especially with the notion of marketing a $10,000 watch that’ll be obsolete in a year is reaching the tipping point. They clearly strike me as a greedy company that cares little for the little guy as the largest, most profitable company around. But we still love their products. There isn’t anything better. Yet.

Same with Starbucks. I now brew my own coffee at work using an Aero press. Starbucks has lost that specialness. It’s now just a commoditized transaction. In and out. Sure, they’re nice places to meet someone for a conversation. Especially for business. But it’s not somewhere I care to go in my spare time or when I want a good experience. The coffee is just not that good anymore. I can do better myself.

I’ll confess that it took me a few tries to get the process down so that it was easy, but now that I have it dialed, I love the quality of coffee via Aero Press. Bon Appetit was right when they cited it as one of the best for the road. I want Starbucks to become cool again; they’ve made huge, generally positive impact on the world. I actually think that they have a lot of people who care, but it gets really hard at scale.

When you’re everywhere – and big – and ridiculously profitable, you lose the underachiever status that makes us want to root for you. No longer do we care much about your success. We like the struggle. We like the ones who’ve not be discovered by the masses.

Once big, you’re not so cool any more.

At what point do you reach that? In business, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. You always have to reinvent yourself. Release new products and new things. Because – especially with technology – change happens and people get bored. We always want the new shiny object even when they absolutely don’t need it. We really don’t.

And if you’re not growing in size and profits, someone else will overtake you.. You’ll be replaced. It’s a conundrum. How much processing power do we really need? How many different types of Lattes, Frappucinos and Refreshers can we consume? It becomes noise.

I don’t have an answer here. Just observations. Stay fresh Keep delighting those you serve. Pay attention to the little things even when you’re big. Few companies do and that makes it unexpected. But remember that we generally root for the underdog.

The future is unknowable

UnknowableFuture

This might be obvious to you. Or maybe not. We develop plans, anxiety and fret over what might be or might not. We do our best to control it. Sure, you want – and need – to plan for the future. Like saving for retirement, rainy days and life’s major events. You buy insurance to protect yourself from adversity.

I just finished Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow where he talks about the unknowable future and the many people who make their living predicting what will happen – the housing bubble, for instance. Or 9/11. Pundits proclaimed they knew the financial crisis would strike, but not exactly when. But what Daniel lays out is that it’s easy to say you knew it would happen in the rearview. With time, our minds alter the stories we tell ourselves. He shows how what we experience and what we remember differ greatly. Vacations and arduous adventures like mountain climbing are often much better after the fact.

Experience allows you to have intuitions and spot trends, but you don’t know things in advance because you can’t. It’s the future after all, and there’s no crystal ball no matter how badly you and everyone else wants one.

Knowing this should bring a little relief as you stand making New Year’s resolutions and pondering what the year will bring. How much of what you predicted for 2013 came true? What surprises hit you?

Having a plan and a framework to focus your thinking is good. That’s why I outlined my three words for this year. Just know that luck plays a role in what the year ahead will bring and be open. Happy 2014!

Enter the Database, Where IMC Benefits from Data and Automation

At its core IMC (Integrated Marketing Communications) is data driven to support a customer-centric company. Today, technology gives us access to all kinds of data – more specific, more targeted, bigger, but is it better? Please join us Sunday, February 10th at 5:00 PM Pacific / 8:00 PM Eastern on Twitter for #IMCChat as we tackle this topic via the following questions:

  • IMC is data-driven, so where do you start with orienting data to the customer?
  • How can data help bridge the marketing functions (and really the whole co)?
  • Is there a way to keep data top-of-mind
  • How do you keep data relevant (fresh)?
  • As a marketer, what’s the most important data you collect? Why is it so important?
  • What is the most important data to keep collecting and reviewing?
  • How do you keep data from collecting dust on a shelf?
  • In a customer-centric co, is there room for automation?
  • What tactics or efforts make the most sense to automate?

We might not get to all of the questions depending on the flow of the conversation during the hour we have, but these are there to stimulate thinking and dialogue.