I know it’s here somewhere

My wife likes to needle me for (according to her) not being good at looking for things.  Needless to say, I disagree.

(Admittedly, I did recently speak to a senior marketer at Proctor and Gamble who told me that P&G has done studies in homes in which they move one or two items in the pantry, and women crush men in their ability to figure out what was moved….something about how men and women’s memories about of spatial relations are fundamentally different.)

I didn’t help my case when, the other day, I failed to find the little needle for the bike pump, so I could inflate a soccer ball.  This tiny needle floats around our house, usually in the “junk drawer” that’s full of pens, keys, stickers, and other small household overflow items.  I rifled through the drawer twice and convinced myself if wasn’t there.

My wife came downstairs, opened the drawer, and pulled the darn thing out in about two seconds.

Friendly marital banter aside, here’s what I’ve begun to understand: we look in a different ways when we’re sure something is there.  And this isn’t just about keys and pens and tomato sauce.

It goes something like this: if you’re not sure something is there, you’re looking in order to 1) Confirm/refute your hypothesis that the thing is there AND 2) Find the thing.  Conversely, if you’re sure something is there, you’re just working #2, on finding the thing.  Evidence along the way that indicates that it’s not there is summarily ignored.

This applied to all proverbial needles in haystacks, to problems big and small.  Knowing the answer is out there – you just have to find it – is a completely different undertaking than looking around, not sure if the answer is out there in the first place.  If you do the latter, you’re likely to throw in the towel far too soon, and you’re also likely to look in the wrong places. If you’re sure the answer is out there, you hang on to that conviction doggedly.

This is why looking tentatively is so problematic; why high-paid consultants often end up confirming what we already knew and discourage us from pushing boundaries into the unknown; it’s why great entrepreneurs distinguish themselves.

The chorus of naysayers loves to jeer that a better way isn’t out there.  And they win when we give up, because it confirms their own fears and the status quo that they love so much.

The thing is, a better way IS out there. And you’re going to find it if you look hard enough.

Confidence and Abilities

A woman I’ve gotten to know has had one of the most incredible professional trajectories I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness.  In six years she’s gone from an off-the-street volunteer/intern into a key player in a global organization.  It’s not just that her job title or her responsibilities have changed – she is a fundamentally different person (or, more accurately, she’s taken huge strides towards becoming the person she’s meant to be and who the world needs her to be).  Amazingly, the organization she works for has been able to keep up with her trajectory and give her bigger, more challenging roles.

When we talk about her career and her life, we keep coming back to the fact that one of her biggest challenges is having her confidence keep pace with her abilities.  While the people around her realize who she’s become, realize what a linchpin she is for her organization, at times the echoes of her former self, her former self-image, her former limitations, all reverberate, if only for her.

For a while I thought that this reflection was just for her, because most people don’t transform as quickly as she does.

But of course it is for all of us.

Most of us carry the mantle of our former selves – the intern we were, the person with the entry-level job clamoring for attention, with all those perceived limitations holding us back.

Worse, we make the mistake of spending time and energy clamoring for that bigger job, the new job title and formal responsibilities, energy that could instead be spent on actually doing bigger, better, more audacious things.  And we get even more confused when our asking for more actually gets us more, reinforcing the specious notion that real authority, ability, and voice come from anywhere but inside of us.

 

My impulse book purchase

Last week, for the second time, a friend recommended a book to me.  Rather than let the idea pass, I brought it right away on my iPhone to be read later on my Kindle, for $5.99.

The next day, she brought me a paper copy of the book for me to read. Suddenly I had two copies.

This has never happened to me before: making an impulse book purchase so fast that I ended up with two copies. In fact, for most people (outside of the most avid readers and book-buyers) “impulse book purchase” used to be oxymoronic.

No longer.

The demise of print newspapers and magazines has led to a chorus proclaiming the end of books.  I don’t buy it.  When the price of the book is (or could be) within the vicinity of the price of ringtones – 2.6 billion of those have been downloaded – and, perhaps more relevant, when the price sits somewhere between the going rate of an iPhone app and an iPad app AND they’re just as easy to acquire, there’s no reason to believe that people are going to buy fewer books, but there’s lots of reason to believe that how people buy “books” and what people buy will look a lot more like lots of other things we know about (online content, apps, games) than they will like the book business today.

That’s why it pays to pay attention to The Domino Project.  Why the time to start building your audience, your voice, your tribe is now, not tomorrow.  And why, whether we like these changes or not, it’s time to understand and embrace them.

Sarah Kay at TED

Daniel commented last week:

“Sarah Kay’s TED talk is up and amazingly, even with you setting the bar quite high, she totally shattered it for me.

Post it up for your readers.”

Here it is, and just keep reminding yourself: Sarah’s 22 years old, standing in front of one of the most intimidating crowds on the planet, and although I bet her heart was pounding, I didn’t see her break a sweat.

Out (f-cking) care the competition

I just learned last week about Gary Vaynerchuk from Seth Godin’s Domino Project (great post, Ishita), another great example of someone who pokes the box (you mean you haven’t read Poke the Box yet?  What are you waiting for?  It’s a top 100 book on Amazon, for goodness sake, and it will help you see that you don’t need to wait for anyone’s permission.    OK fine, I’ll write a review soon).

Then just yesterday a colleague told me that Gary’s talk at last weeks’ SXSW-Interactive was one of the top three at the whole darn conference.  Besides the entertainment value of Gary’s, uh, colorful vocabulary, (2 minutes and 4 seconds without dropping the “f-bomb”) Gary’s main message was that companies are going to win and lose based on who can “out care” their customers.

Speaking of caring (and not caring), the other night I was at Magnolia Bakery, which helped start the NY cupcake craze and which shamelessly charges nearly $3 for an (admittedly delicious) cupcake.   But service is slow.  The store is set up Disney-land style (pick your cupcakes here, walk down the long counter for the chance to buy more stuff, pay at the register at the end) which might work when there’s a throng of customers but makes no sense when you’d rather just drop six bucks in a jar and walk away with two cupcakes.

I was running late for a show, so I noticed when it took me (and the other six other customers in the store) nearly 10 minutes to buy cupcakes (two cupcakes per couple, so really three customers).  Bad enough, but much worse because there were 8 Magnolia employees chatting, working, and doing everything but notice that their empty shop had a logjam.  I even asked one of them if I could just pay and go, and she said she wasn’t assigned to the register.

“Too cool for school” might be an OK customer service approach when your shop is flooded with tourists looking for a “real NY experience,” but for the rest of us chickens it’s time to think seriously about out-caring the competition.  If you don’t believe me, read the blow-by-blow Zappos story in Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, and remind yourself again and again: this is a billion dollar company with rabid fans who buy SHOES ONLINE.

While last week’s post about new humanism generated a lot of interest, some comments said that David Brooks’ arguments are old hat.  The ideas may not be new, but they’re certainly not mainstream (in business, in economics, in how we teach our kids), and I think it’s high time that changes.  It’s much more than a tweak to the old models….if you really take it seriously you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater and start afresh.

For example, the old way of thinking about customer service says that customers want the best product for the best price, and oh, yes, they want to good customer service too (read: nice-to-have, sort of like “soft skills”…can you hear the derisive sneer?).  The Zappos way of thinking says that creating an off-the-charts customer experience is the ONLY thing that matters.  For Zappos, it’s the end-all be-all.

It may be that Magnolia Bakery can ignore out-caring the competition because they serve up enough sugary, buttery goodness to anesthetize their customers (or, more seriously, because waiting forever confirms the story of cupcakes you flew across the country to try), but for the rest of us, it’s time to start out-caring the competition.

That means real relationships, every time.  It means you actually care, you don’t just act like you care.  It means you put emotional effort into everything you do.  It’s not easy to copy, which is why if you do it with abandon, you win.

That moment

You know that moment when you ask for something really big?  Big enough that it makes you nervous and makes the person you’re asking nervous?

Your empathy will scream out for you to rescue the person – and you – from the discomfort you just created.

Don’t do it.

Sit there.

Let the seconds tick by.

Now the best way for that discomfort to go away is to have the person you’ve just made a big ask of say “Yes.”

Hello!

Try this: the next time you have lunch planned with a friend, have him meet you at your office.  Put him on your calendar.  But don’t tell anyone who he is or why he’s there.

Then, when you sit down with him, ask him what it felt like to be a new visitor to your place of work.

How long does he wait at reception?  Does the receptionist pass him to another person before getting to talk to you?  Is he attended to quickly or does he wait for a while?  Did people say hello to him?  Was he brought to your desk or to a conference room?  Did the experience make him feel welcomed, excited, intimidated, put off?  Does your office feel active and buzzing or empty and quiet?

How was he left feeling before your “meeting” even started?  And how does this compare to how you’d like someone to feel before / during / after a meeting?

Here’s how this often works:

  • You arrive and say who you’re there to meet
  • A receptionist call an assistant
  • You wait a bit
  • The assistant comes to greet you and takes you to an empty room
  • You’re offered something to drink
  • You wait a bit
  • The drink arrives
  • You wait a bit
  • The meeting starts
  • (elapsed time: 5-10 minutes if all goes smoothly)

This particular sequence of events might be fine if you want to make a very specific impression (namely, we’re big and established).  But if the impression you’re after is “nimble, cutting edge organization” consider re-imagining the whole shebang.

Maybe something along the lines of: person arrives, they’re walked straight to your desk.

The advantage you have against the big guys is that you’re NOT them.  In which case acting just like them (because that’s how they do it) is a huge miss.