The Success of a Good Story

This month I read The Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger. Bob has spent his career in the entertainment industries, starting at ABC (TV/news etc.) and is the current executive chairman of Disney. Many of the experiences Bob has had over his career have little relevance to the plans I have for my business or the work I do, but when someone has done as much, worked with as many companies, and been through as many big deals as he has, I think it’s always a good idea to see what lessons they can teach you.

One of the biggest lessons in the book is interestingly enough something that’s very Disney, and that’s about who you are as a person and a leader. To be someone others can respect, trust, open up to, rely on, and be led by, yet someone who is humble, asks lots of questions, doesn’t pretend to know stuff they don’t know, and recognizes how important it is to have great people surrounding and supporting them (and that without those people the vision could never become reality). These are the characteristics that many of us have seen in the Disney shows and movies we’ve seen and while no one is perfect, they’re things Bob not only learned throughout his career are important, but they’re things he’s tried to live up to.

One of the other things this book goes through in detail are the many acquisitions Bob was part of from one side or the other and what it takes to get deals done, especially on the big scale that is often done in the entertainment world. Deals, decisions and offerings aren’t created to have market share, but because putting them together or offering them increases value to the company/companies, team members and customers. With each deal and decision there were tons of questions and research and conversation that had to be had, especially along the lines of making sure that cultures remain intact, value will be added, growth/innovation will be almost guaranteed, and that it all can be done in a way that shows vision, priorities, clarity and as appropriate, unity.

Finally, the last lesson I wanted to share about was something that the book started with and is another iconic aspect of Disney and that’s crafting a good story. The book started out with the story of one of Bob’s more intense weeks both as a person, father and person in charge of the legacy that is Disney. It was an incredibly engaging way to start the book, and was something that continued throughout it. I often say that everyone, every company has a story. Why? Because behind every company is a person or group of people and their ideas that started that company and has (usually) guided every step forward that it has taken. Bob shared in the book that he has always been interested in a good story, and I think that’s one of the reasons that he’s succeeded as he has. Not only has the story caught him, but he learned how to share that story in a way that caught the attention of others and added value in one way or another.

As silly as telling stories for a living may seem, Disney is a huge business that employs thousands throughout their various connected corporations, and has touched the lives of billions since 1923. The steps the book shares that they made over the past couple of decades shows that they’re committed to carrying on the vision of the Disney brothers who started the company for many years to come. What about you? Are you adding value every day through your business? Committed to your team and recognizing how essential they are to the company’s success? Sharing your story because it matters to you and is something others can connect with? Whether you plan to only be in business for a season or hope to have the years of a company like Disney, how are you leading that company?

Success and Disappointment

This week in one of my newsletters I shared about the topic of disappointment. It can really hurt when you’ve put a ton of time and/or effort into something only to find out last minute that it’s not going to work, that you’ve had it all wrong all along, someone else did the same work already and you didn’t know it, someone wasn’t clear enough on the instructions, restrictions/rules have changed, you’re too late, or you’re told that that’s not good enough. It’s one thing to be disappointed by things largely outside of your control, things that you had no way of planning for or anticipating. But it’s another when you’re missing key information or support that should have been there and it feels like the rug got pulled out from underneath you.

In some ways, we should be thankful that we’re as successful as we are as often as we are. Some of us have a whole lot of good luck in our history, and I don’t know about you, but I never pass up an opportunity for good luck. But most of us aren’t successful through luck alone, there’s a lot of hard work, good communication, relationship building and long hours that goes into it as well. And whether we like it or not, hand in hand with success goes failure and disappointment.

This year we’ve had a raft of new disappointments and some unique successes as well. We’ve worked hard to make it through this year that seems like several years were packed into, and we’ve still got another 2+ months to go. I would like to live as an optimist, and I think I am for the most part. But I also think it’s important for us to be realistic about the fact that some things don’t work out as planned. It’s one reason I think it’s important to take time to be thankful and celebrate along the victory journey, because you don’t know that the ending will be a victory. And of course it’s important to learn from those failures and disappointments, because those lessons can be victories in and of themselves, especially if they help you avoid disappointments in the future.

Rethinking Halloween

Halloween is this coming Saturday, and I’m anticipating it with a combination of excitement and sadness. In some recent years we’ve had snow and other big acts of mother nature on or around Halloween and it has been postponed or cancelled, which was disappointing. But this year with the virus it’s a completely different type of cancellation because we know going in that it’s not likely to be anything like the event we’ve had in the past and therefore disappointing to kids (and the adults who enjoy the holiday).

Families can alleviate the sadness if their kids/communities aren’t participating this year by turning it into a week of all things Halloween, kind of like we do with the month of December for Christmas. Plan a different Halloween movie, activity, decorating/dress up activity, and treat hunt for each day of the week, things that everyone in the family would enjoy. These can be things you’ve done and watched in the past, as well as things that are new to your family and Halloween traditions. It’s a great year to try some of the more labor-intensive things you’ve put off in the past because everyone has a little more time at home this year.

This year has been an opportunity to do more with family and do things a little different. I know we haven’t been able to make the usual memories and have the usual experiences because of the virus, but I think we’ve been able to make some special memories all the same. So as we get into the 2020 holiday season, I think it’s a great opportunity to come up with new traditions, try new customs and get creative about our celebrations in ways we’ve never done or tried before. What spooky fun will you have this week with your family?

Planning for Holiday Success

I don’t know about you, but I love seeing a pile of presents under the Christmas tree. Yes, I’m thinking holidays and gift giving. I honestly can’t wait until it’s acceptable to listen to Christmas music, and I’ve definitely been enjoying having a change of pace with TV and movies with all the Halloween content this month. As we all know, we’re a little over two months out from the end of the year, and in those two months historically, many businesses do make a significant chunk of their profits. But what about this year? Will people buy? I think the answer may have to do in part with if the virus cases significantly increase (causing people to have to stay home), if the government manages/chooses to send out another round of checks, and how concerned people are about what next year holds for them financially.

So, with 64 days to Christmas, 49 days to Hanukkah, 35 days to Thanksgiving, and 9 days to Halloween, I figured it’s time to really start thinking about this holiday gifting/spending season and making some plans to finish out the year as well as we can. In this year of craziness, I think an important place is to first take stock of what your customers have been asking for in recent weeks and what supplies you’ve got from last year. I’m not suggesting that you reuse last year’s promotions at all, but there may be resources there that you can reallocate and make good use of. And, with this year being so different, it’s important to make sure that what you’re planning will fit in with what they’ve been craving or requesting or might want to make a socially distanced holiday special.

As far as holiday offerings, I would have a selection of smaller and/or less expensive products including some that are holiday themed, and/or adding something a little festive to your usual offerings. This could be something as simple as adding a cookie with seasonal flavors and decorations or adding sprinkles/jimmies of seasonal colors to things like sundaes if you’re in the dining/food industries. It could be something like bell or Santa hat shaped earrings or tastefully decorated holiday ties for the fashion industries. It could also be something like a brand-specific twist on a letter from Santa which would work well for almost any industry.

Or this year in particular a great idea for a more expensive offering would be a gift basket/bag/set of boxes that would include 5-20 smaller items or sample sized items that you could charge between $50 and $100 for (and maybe even a few that are $200-$500 for those who can spend more). Yes, you absolutely could include all items from your company, but you could also offer something similar with contributions from a bunch of local companies to not only help support your business but help the other local businesses that have also been challenged this year. The same principle holds true for companies who don’t have a physical location, you can definitely do a special offer that includes items from a variety of companies who you have connected with and love and think your customers would love too. And even businesses that offer just services can come up with some bite sized and packaged offerings to tempt their customers with, perhaps giving them that special update or upgrade they’ve been wanting to do but haven’t been able to afford all of the services in full at their regular prices.

These are just a few of the ideas that could help spark some holiday success for both you and your customers, what plans are you making to celebrate the holidays?

Time for Unity

I love the holiday season that we’re about to enter. I’m thankful that it comes around every year (as opposed to Leap Day which only comes around occasionally). Could you imagine if we had Christmas and Black Friday once every couple of years (2+)? I think the kids would revolt. But truth is that the holidays are important for all of us because it brings us together. We’re brought together through our TV screens as we all watch the holiday movies around the country. We’re brought together in little family groups for gift exchanges and Thanksgiving dinners. We’re brought together as communities for tree lightings and trick-or-treating. It’s really a season of togetherness.

I often talk about how one of the great ways to raise a child is as part of a community. No parent should try to do it on their own. No one knows everything and no one can do everything, and honestly it amazes me that some people still try to do as much as they possibly can. I do understand the feelings you experience when you have to ask for help or don’t want to admit that you’re struggling, but why not rely on the passion, skill and knowledge of people in areas that you’re not an expert? Which brings me to what I was thinking about today, and that’s how important others are to our success.

As much as success is an independent activity and pursuit, most victories and successes are when we come together to make things happen. Black Friday only works because stores offer big discounts and shoppers turn out to shop. Thanksgiving only works if people make lots of food and stores carry the ingredients to make all that food. This blog post only gets published if I think of something to write and write it, the internet is up and WordPress works. Kids only get to school if someone helps them get there (or wakes them up to head to the computer). You only get to your job at an office if you drive or find other transportation to get there.

I’m certainly not diminishing or judging the fact that you were successful in vacuuming your house this week or that you did your laundry today or ate something healthy today, any and all victories we’re able to work through are worth celebrating from the small to the large. But there’s something to be said for the many people who come together to make things work as smoothly and successfully as they do. Think about one football game or the World Series that will be starting soon. You’ve got all the players plus the coaches plus the facility managers and maintenance plus the announcers and radio personnel, and the numbers stack up pretty quick, not to mention if fans didn’t watch the games they certainly wouldn’t be as big a part of our culture as they are.

If we can come together for things like Black Friday and baseball, can’t we come together for other things like the environment, health, abuse, and poverty? I think one of the biggest keys to getting through this challenge that we’re facing as a world is to be truly united and start working together. What or whom are you avoiding or hiding from being united with that would not only help your life but help the lives of others too?

Careers You Dream Of

Some people just seem like they’re perfectly made for the work they’re doing, don’t they? I’m reading a book right now about one of the CEO’s of Disney and it’s clear from the book why he has been so good at the job he’s done, and how much he has enjoyed the role. It got me thinking about our careers, the ways we make money, and the direction that the next couple of generations will go. Some people are so incredibly lucky to be able to go to work each day (or however many days/nights they work) and do something they love so very much. There are too many people who haven’t been able to find the work that they’re most inspired by, or they’ve gotten trapped in a career that others seem to have shoved them into and now they don’t know how to get out of this mess.

The thing is that most people are perfectly happy to work hard for their income, as long as they’re treated right and they’re doing something they see value in. I hate how many people are out of work this year because of the virus, especially because while it would be a great opportunity to change careers, there are a whole bunch of industries that aren’t hiring at all and may not be for the foreseeable future. So if they’re interested in working in those industries, with no experience or training, it will be very hard to even get an interview when those places do open up again unless they’re able to show their passion and interest for the industry and be able ot bring something to the table that someone who has been in the industry for years couldn’t bring.

I wish that more people were able to wake up each day and be excited about going to work and doing the work they were going to do. I absolutely understand parents or relatives who pressure kids to work as an accountant or plumber or doctor because the work’s steady and the pay is good or great. In many ways having that guaranteed work would have been nice this past year. But I’ve heard too many stories of people who go into a line of work because it’s expected of them or that’s what others tell them to do and they’re not happy. I don’t think anyone can be happy all the time, but I do think that if you’re working a job that you truly love even the most difficult parts won’t be that bad and you won’t be struggling to go to work the next day.

What about you? Do you enjoy the work you do? Do you have a dream job or career? Or do you have dreams of a career that you want to pursue?

The Business of Ignorance

The poet Thomas Gray said: “Ignorance is bliss.” There couldn’t be anything further than the truth in most businesses. Not knowing that your customers are unhappy or happy, not knowing if your employees are happy or unhappy, not knowing if there’s an issue with your production line, not knowing if there’s something that could be done to better facilitate your customer service, or not knowing if you have any money left in the budget just aren’t things that makes you a successful, thriving, company.

So how do we dispel the ignorance without trying to be everything and do everything and micromanage everything and everyone? The systems are the first place to start. When you have systems and schedules in place it increases the chances that everything is going to run as it is supposed to. Yes, sometimes systems can be very rigid and that’s a necessary component of some of them. But systems should also show what the leeway is or what types of freedom your team has with supporting your customers. The system should also include time for personal development, flex time to catch up on certain projects, or other weekly/monthly activities like taking inventory. And as part of the system you should include opportunities to review and reconsider how things are going, which includes hearing both the bad and the ideas.

The other key component of combating ignorance in business is to hire well. No, you won’t do it right all the time, but always do your best to hire people who will communicate with you when you need or they need to, can work with others as the job requires, can follow instructions but also are able to think for themselves, can be trusted to follow through on things and don’t need to be micro managed, have a level of creativity, can think on their feet as necessary, and are committed to their success and the success of your business. More than ever people are changing jobs many times during their career, so you’re not necessarily looking for forever people, but if you can hire people who will fully commit to doing their best for you and your customers for however many years they are with you, and create an environment that’s healthy and empowering for them, you should have a team that will help your business be successful and avoid saying “I didn’t know about that” constantly.

A word of warning: often ignorance is because we’re scared about what the truth might be or don’t want to face the work that may be necessary to fix things. It’s always way worse to leave things alone than to face them head on. Ignorance and avoidance don’t benefit your business or your leadership. What are you going to address this week?

How Strong Are You?

Today is a day of many opportunities to celebrate, whether it’s Thanksgiving Day (Canada), or if you call it Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day. We’ll be talking a lot about being thankful next month with the US Thanksgiving, so today I wanted to talk about Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day. I agree that it’s important to recognize the indigenous people groups all around the world, including those who were instrumental in helping people get established here in the US. These people groups who are often ignored, forgotten or put aside because they don’t usually live the modernized lives that many do have played an important role in caring for the world for centuries, and if we don’t take the time to learn from them, respect them and support them, we’ll lose their knowledge and experience.

But we would live very different lives if not for Columbus and the other explorers who left their homes, got in boats and traveled hoping to find distant lands with more space or resources. If you think it’s hard living on top of people like we do in the big cities like LA, New Orleans and NYC, could you imagine if no one ever ventured into the center of the US and we were all only living on the coasts? Maybe we could designate a day for the explorers in August since it’s one of the few months that doesn’t already have a holiday.

But what I was thinking about as I contemplated today’s holiday and everything else that’s gone on this year is that you don’t know how strong you are…until you’ve crossed an ocean on a leaky boat not knowing if you’ll reach a destination, faced your fears, tried something new, dealt with innumerable unplanned and unwelcome changes, beaten an addiction, or survived the loss of everything you own. Others can tell you how strong they think you are, but only you are able to prove to yourself that you are strong and capable of dealing with whatever life sends your way (or figuring out how to get out of the way). I hope that you choose to find your strengths rather than learn to live in your weaknesses out of the experience that has been this year.

Sharing Secrets

I’ve been thinking about secrets a lot lately, everyone has secrets.  Some secrets are big like if you’re committing crimes and no one knows, others are smaller like having only cartons of ice cream in your freezer and nothing else.  There are many things that can make or break a relationship, but the biggest one is the other person.  Julia Child said:

“The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know they’re right if you love to be with them all the time.”

I don’t believe that you’ll always like someone or always want to be with them, each of us do things that aren’t so nice sometimes or make mistakes that hurt others, and we need some alone time.  But if things usually go well for you two, you usually enjoy each other’s company, you usually work well together and agree on the important things of life like kids and money, you’re fortunate to have found someone so special.  Have you told them that lately?  

I’m amazed by the TV shows that introduce two people on their wedding day.  I can’t imagine getting to my wedding day and not really knowing the person I would be marrying.  Science and quizzes may tell us a lot about our compatibility, but there’s nothing that beats meeting and getting to know the person over a period of time. Even those who know they’re meant to be from the first meeting take time to get to know each other before heading to the altar.  

How well do you know your partner?  Spend time sharing secrets this week, you can share some big ones but little ones like ice cream preferences are a good place to start too.

Tired (Halloween) Marketing

October is here and it’s the beginning of the race to the end of the year for marketers and businesses. It’s the time of the year that many businesses depend on to be in the black for the year. Yes, it can be a lot of work, but it’s also a really big chance to show people what you’ve got as a business. I know that this year has had some extra challenges packed in (and I hate to point it out but we’re not done yet), but I think more than anything that should challenge those of us who run businesses that are truly in it for the people (and not just to make a buck or avoid taxes) to really try to do our best not only for us but for them.

So this week I was excited to hear about and see all the returning Halloween/spooky TV shows and movies. Media is big business still and something that connects most of us, whether you’re into sports or reality TV or movies or news or classics. While there’s been talk about how limited the returns and high the costs can be with regards to commercials, they’re still big business and not in danger of being extinct anytime soon. These are two of the reasons why it’s more important than ever to be working to maximize your efforts when it comes to commercials and doing all that you can to target the right audience and get the most you can out of the investment.

I’ve got nothing against classics, in fact there are some things that we absolutely rely on each year and we would be crushed if they didn’t come around like Black Friday, Santa, the Easter bunny, candy corn, pumpkin carving, season/holiday specific decorations, and certain movies and shows (Charlie Brown/White Christmas etc.). But I don’t know if it’s the year that we’ve had or just companies being lazy, but I’m seeing repeats of Halloween-themed commercials that we’ve seen for at least the last year if not longer. I don’t think there’s a good excuse for not being a little creative and coming up with some different things within the limits we’ve currently got. I don’t think it speaks well for these companies who are reusing commercials, especially commercials that aren’t truly iconic or being alternated with new commercials from the same companies to give variety.

I absolutely understand how difficult it can be to come up with something new every year/season to advertise the same product or service (i.e. insurance), but then there are a fair number of companies in every industry who always manage to come up with something fresh, which means that for those of us who only reuse marketing campaigns that truly aren’t classics have no excuses. If anything, this year should have encouraged us to really get out there and be creative, something that I have seen from some companies/marketing companies. So as you’re planning what you’re doing for the last 3 months of the year in your marketing, I encourage you to really be creative, be fresh, speak to people taking into consideration the year that it has been, and don’t just depend on the past, because the past may never be truly relevant again.