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When green meant stop

Until 1925 in NYC, people were used to driving through red stop lights but stopping at green. It was the norm and people were used to it. Until that changed and red became the international color that meant ‘stop.’

That’s the power of an idea. It started when people put their heads together and realized that our brains respond differently to various colors. Then they approached some influential people with viable solutions and, before you knew it, green meant something different than it did a few years earlier.

Ideas are the the lifeblood of organizations and societies alike. Ideas that spread can make or break your current system. And ideas become greater when others build on them.

A hunch

“A feeling or guess based on intuition rather than known facts.”

As recently as a few hundreds years ago, most decisions were based on hunches along with a little bit of data. But now the pendulum has swung to the other side. Now, we are more analytical because we have more access to data. With this reliance on data, however, it seems like we haven’t quite mastered the art of applying the right data to the correct situation. We love data, and that love blinds us (sometimes) to accurate information and, as a result, wisdom. Just because we know what works, statistically, doesn’t mean it will work in this context under these circumstances.

Human judgement, therefore will not and should not ever be replaced. And data certainly should not trump all. The two work hand in hand. Data leads to information which leads to knowledge; as does experience and intuition. Data informs. It improves our judgement which allows our hunches to yield more promising results.

Just because you ‘know’ something doesn’t mean you know it. Trust in something beyond what the data says, what the odds are, or what is popular or widely understood. Believe in something greater—the universe, God, your gut, whatever it is, it somehow already knows.

All motivation is self motivation

It has to be, eventually.

You can coach yourself. At least, that should be your aim. Because the sooner you can get to the point where you know what motivates you and what doesn’t, the quicker you can not only coach yourself but begin to lead others.

What I’m getting at here is that we are becoming too reliant on external motivation. Make 30 phone calls today or your boss will hound you. Continue working late so that you can get a promotion. But if we’ve learned anything from Coach Knight or Chef Ramsay it’s that our current system isn’t built to depend on external motivation—and neither are we. If you’re constantly looking for rewards and recognition, you’ll never find enough to fill your cup. If you feel the need to cc your manager on every email so that they trust you’re working, then you’re missing the point (and so is your organization if that’s what they expect).

The point is, the world needs people who would do what they do even if it wasn’t their job. It also tends to favor those who can find that motivation inside.

All hype

Showing up is great. It gets you noticed and builds the hype. When you keep showing up, you start to build a reputation—for better or for worse, depending on how you show up.

But after you keep saying yes and volunteering, what happens next? What do you do after you fail a few times? Do you still keep showing up? Do you bring that same level of enthusiasm you had when you arrived the first time?

By all means, keep making promises. You’ll continue to grab attention. But gaining that kind of attention is easy because raising your hand is easy. Keeping those promises is how you build something special. It’s how you earn trust.

What aren't we talking about?

It’s just as telling (if not more so) as what we are saying.

If we communicate in order to solve problems, then when we aren’t, we aren’t.

When someone asks a question, do you get frustrated? Do you feel defensive? Is your culture conducive to those questions?

Talking is your job. Talking is the point. It’s what we do!

If something goes without saying then you can bet that you’re missing out on a lot of important stuff.

That wasn't in the job description

Either was:

  • Saying hi

  • Putting other people’s dishes in the dishwasher

  • Figuring out something that works (or doesn’t)

  • Planning an activity

  • Leading a discussion

  • Actively engaging with your peers

  • Asking tough questions

  • Offering a helping hand

  • Being curious

  • Smiling

Best in show

Everyone’s got something to say. Opinions. Criticisms. Feedback. How do you sort through the noise? What is credible? What isn’t?

The first question you’ll need to answer is ‘where is it coming from?’ What are the intentions of the person delivering his/her opinions? Is it to spite you and push their agenda? Or are they well-intentioned? Because if you confuse the two, you just might be missing out on a lot of valuable information.

You may not agree with someone’s opinion, but what if they were right? Would it kill you if you experimented with different tactics or tried implementing a minor tweak to your strategy?

Here’s the thing, criticism is not advice, but you’ll have a hard time telling the difference if you constantly come across defensively. Try being a little more agreeable and a little less combative. Your opinion still may not change, but you might.

A world without quotas

What motivates people to perform better?

Is it monetary value? Or is it a genuine desire for personal growth or education?

But sales reps are different, right? They need incentives, metric-centric goals, and quotas! But what if they weren’t? What if they didn’t? What if we don’t give them enough credit? What if instead of having quotas, you paid your reps a base salary of what they would normally make in OTE?

It’s an interesting idea. I can’t think of any companies who have tried it (granted, for good reason-possibly), but I genuinely wonder what would happen if a company had the guts to eliminate sales quotas. Without a quota, reps just might be motivated by other things like being more engaged with product managers. They might want to spend a few extra hours a week helping the new hiring class learn the ropes. They might stop padding their stats just to win a spiff and instead focus on driving value to clients and co-workers. Sales leadership could now focus on training and developing their talent rather than talking quotas (and rearranging comp plans) and attainment every so often. Reps might be given the freedom to experiment with new methods and systems. Can you imagine? Innovation coming from the sales team?

It’s just a thought. Maybe one day I’ll be in a position to try it out.

Showing up

Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Sometimes.

True, showing up is the crucial first step. In fact, it’s been said that ‘showing up is 80% of life.’ If that’s true then the other 20% comprises of how you show up. Which sounds a lot like the Pareto Principle, meaning—20% of how you show up makes up for 80% of your results.

So show up to serve, show up to impact, show up to love.

Temporary decisions

We overcomplicate things. Most of the decisions we make are temporary. This blog post will only be seen by a handful of people, no one will care what shoes I wear today, my new landing page will probably change in a week.

Things aren’t as mission-critical as we make them out to be. There are lots of areas in our lives where we need to stop acting as though every little decision we make matters as much as the big ones we make. The words I choose to use in my book aren’t as important as the words I say to my wife. The decision to subscribe to NYtimes Crossword, isn’t comparable to renewing our lease.

Moving to a new city? By all means, take your time, gather data and make a more calculated decision. Need to drive more traffic to your website? Don’t take one more second thinking about this one—try new things, make mistakes, learn what works and what doesn’t.

Pick a smaller market

You don’t need more features, you need a smaller market.

Not only is it way more interesting to be the big fish in a small pond, it’s more lucrative and enjoyable as well. Being #1 in a small market means you set the rules—you arrange the menu, the venue, and the seating.

But it also means more responsibility. You may attract the best customers, but you’re also held to the highest standards; not to mention you’re watched like a hawk.

Up to you.

Quantity begets quality

After you make 1,000 phone calls, you start to know what people like to hear and what people don’t. You know what works. Same goes for designers—after your 500th logo, you start to get a sense of what good design looks and feels like. The same could be said for writers, musicians, marketers, and leaders.

Just like repetition is the mother of all learning, the way to produce something of quality is to first pump out the quantity. Then you can start to narrow your focus, recalibrate your intentions, and take your time on the things of most importance.

The connection economy

It’s the one economy that will never change.

No matter the medium, it’s what all human beings desire—connection. It’s what makes professionals great and great organizations professional.

So before you start a project, take on a new endeavor, or learn something new, first ask how it’s going to help you connect. Everything else is just logistics.

Cost vs. Value

The cost of something is obvious. You read it on a tag, calculate it on a spreadsheet, or determine it in your head. But value is vaguer. It is most often understood through experience and there’s rarely a calculable ROI.

The cost of something is the same for everyone purchasing the item. But the value is different for everyone.

Those that only see the cost will never enjoy the full benefits of why that particular thing exists. Similarly, if you’re making something just because you think you can produce it more cheaply, you’re missing the point of why people buy things.

As a marketer, your job is to show the value. It takes patience and resolve, but pays for itself time and time again.

As a consumer, don’t be like the skeptic who sees the cost in everything but the value in nothing. The world needs people who value value.

When disruption distracts

What you’re doing isn’t new. It’s be done before. Others have tried it in different situations under different circumstances. It’s worked for some, failed for others. But why should that stop you from doing it? From trying something similar?

People have this strange fear that they can’t write the book inside their head, speak up about a trending topic, or build something that already exists. The idea of ‘disruption’ looms in our wantrepreneurial minds. If we can’t create something ‘game-changing’ or ‘groundbreaking,’ then why bother?

Here’s the thing, do it anyway. Of course, it’s been done before. But if you look hard enough, everything’s been done by someone before us. What we need from you is your unique take on the subject. Give us your version. That’s what we’re most interested in.

Execute. re: don't aim at success

Here’s how most interviews with Gregg Popovich go:

“What does your team need to do to overcome this deficit?”
”We’ll need to execute.”

“A rough second quarter, what are they doing defensively to slow you down?”
”They’re executing better than we are.”

“Your team was down 10, now up 15, what was the difference in the third quarter?”
”We executed.”

Now, this may be an oversimplification, but what if it’s not? We get so caught up on the score, the results, that we forget our assignments when it matters. Sure, every now and then, take a step back and have the end in sight, but let your constant focus be on executing today.

Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it
— Viktor E. Frankl

Keeping your eyes on the prize gets distracting. It is possible to look too far ahead too soon—you just might miss the pitfall right in front of you.

P.S. For more, read: The Score Takes Care of Itself, and Man’s Search for Meaning.

An open letter to managers

Being a manager is hard. I’ve never held the title of manager in a corporate work environment, but I’ve had some good managers, and I’ve had some who, had great intentions, but were either looking for areas to improve or just flat out contributed to a toxic environment. Here’s my unsolicited advice to those managers looking to get better: 

Be open to feedback. Ask those you manage for feedback and mean it. Really try to make it a point to implement that feedback. 

It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, and don’t pretend to be. 

Your job is to listen. In meetings with your team and clients, listen. If you feel the temptation to talk, make the next thing you say be a question, not a comment. Otherwise, you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by people who have nothing to say.

Ask, what do you need for me? Not, here’s what we need from you. 

Ask, what can I help you with? Not, here’s your goal by the end of today. 

You don’t need to be included on every email. You don’t need to go to every meeting. You don’t have to know every detail. Trust people and let them prove you right.

When you coach, talk strategy, not numbers. We know our numbers. We know we need more volume. Let’s talk about prioritization, instead. Teach us how to organize the clutter and focus on what’s important. Teach us how to ask for help and what that looks like. Let us set our own goals around that discussion, then be a resource when we feel like we’re falling short. 

The best managers I’ve had are passively working rather than strutting around the office like they own the place. They’re doing all this work in the background, but you’d never know it. They’re like the duck swimming across a pond - calm on the surface but paddling like madness underneath. Again, easier said than done. It’s not for everyone, but it’s been those kinds of managers who have felt more like my mentors than a boss who I now consider to be some of the greatest leaders I’ve met. 

Google is too good

You ask a question, it gives you an answer. It’s a dead end.

If you want to learn about bananas and you google ‘facts about bananas,’ that’s exactly what you’ll get—data—nothing remarkable, just numbers and figures. But how do you find the interesting stuff? The stories that stick? Google only confirms the direction you’re already on. Your challenge is to find a new direction.

Take a library shelf, for example, or footnotes. Both are undervalued resources these days.

By the way, did you know that bananas are actually berries? So are avocados (botanically speaking). And, if we’re getting technical, raspberries aren’t berries at all but aggregate fruits…And yes, I did just write about Google being too good so that I could recite some facts about bananas.

Work and learn

For the most part, our days can be broken down into two parts: 1) work and 2) learn.

In other words: 1) create and 2) consume.

Now, ‘working’ doesn’t always have to mean ‘completing tasks for your day job,’ and ‘learning’ doesn’t always have to mean ‘reading’ or ‘studying.’ When you are drafting an email, cooking a meal, updating Salesforce, teaching a principle, spending 1:1 time with someone, you are working. Similarly, when you are reading, listening to a presenter, taking feedback, playing a game, asking questions, you are learning.

We are either creating something or consuming something.

The problem is, too many of us choose to work on things that have little impact and learn things that are of no relevance.
What will you choose to create?
What are you choosing to consume?

Are you doing a good job?

There are a few ways to approach work: 1) you show up, do your job, you do it efficiently—sometimes even faster than expected—and leave. 2) you create change, make an impact in unmeasurable areas, fail, and solve interesting problems.

Doing your job the first way can be enough. It is, after-all, what you were hired to do. But they could hire anyone with your experience to do that. What will make you irreplaceable?

What will we miss? To answer that question you’ll have to stop thinking about the job description and start considering your own mission, your own point of view, your own platform.

Another question you’ll have to keep in mind is whether or not your organization even values that kind of thing.