Hope and Brilliance

So I’m a bit concerned today and maybe you share my concern. What am I concerned about? The leaves that are changing colors for autumn seem to be missing their brilliance. I see some colors out there, but there’s almost a brown tinge to everything. The yellow leaves are more like weak chicken noodle soup and less like a yellow jacket. The red leaves are like reddish-brown clay rather than a hot red pepper. And the orange leaves just look brown.

I’m not exactly up on the science of how leaves transform and what gives them their brilliant color, but it almost feels like someone took the thrill out of autumn. It’s just not the same to have the warm beverage and be out picking apples and taking a drive in the countryside if the leaves aren’t brilliant colors. It doesn’t seem like the usual last hurrah for the year that nature has before it transitions to the sleep of winter.

Admittedly it is quite early in the season and there are still tons of green trees out there, so anything is possible and I haven’t given up hope. But I’m not in love with autumn to begin with and not having the usual leaf display makes it that much harder to face. As I’ve been feeling a bit depressed by the leaves over the past few days, it’s got me thinking about our lives and our world. We’ve come so far and yet it seems like sometimes we’re not making any progress. Yes, there’s always something that we could be working on, but it’s more than that: it sometimes seems like we’re falling behind or taking steps backwards instead of moving forward. I don’t know about you but not only is that frustrating to me, it’s discouraging too.

I can’t do anything about the leaves, but I can do something about my life and try to do something about the world I live in, in fact we all can. Individually we can commit to a schedule, get organized, hire help, reduce our distractions, reduce our commitments, donate stuff, and make choices that feel good and are good for the world we share. As a community we can share a good word on social media, support local businesses, sign petitions, support charities, vote and be considerate of those we share this planet with. It won’t happen instantly, but if we’re committed to making positive steps forward every day and to having more victories than losses, together we can keep our lives and the world moving forward and not let it slide back. Will you shine a little more brilliantly today?

Standing Together

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may know that I watch many of those TV murder/crime investigation shows. In them the cops always have to deliver bad news to someone. Many will tell you it’s always the hardest and worst part of their job. I can believe this because as horrible as it is to see what we humans do to each other, a murder victim is dead and you can usually put some separation between them and you. But when you deal with humans who are alive, the situation and the tragedy is just that much more real. Many times on the TV shows you’ll hear a cop say that they don’t know what a family is going through, but they recognize their suffering and are sorry the family is going through this.

One of the stories in the news is that Duchess Meghan visited the location where a female college student was murdered during the Royal’s tour in Africa. I find it fascinating that with all that she has on her plate, the news of one young lady’s murder captured her attention enough to feel the need to pay her respects to this young lady’s life. This young lady is one of many who are murdered each month, and with each individual who is killed are dozens or hundreds still living who are affected by their untimely death. Thankfully I can’t say I’ve personally experienced the pain those families and friends are going through, and I don’t know that Duchess Meghan can either. But her visit wasn’t about saying to the world I know their pain, but rather about respect and standing with them through this difficult time.

What it all comes back to is the importance of and value in just being there for someone and standing with them through their difficult time. It’s just like when you go to the funeral of someone who passed recently not because you knew them but because you want to support someone who you have a strong connection with who loved them. If someone from a royal family can make time out of their very busy schedule to not only know about a tragedy but to show up in honor, I’d say we all could do a better job of showing up for each other. You don’t have to have personal experiences that you can relate to if you’re going to stand up with someone, you just have to show up and be there for them in whatever ways they need support.

Who will you stand up and support today?

A Coach for the People

This month I read “Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell.” This book is a look at the principles and practices and leadership of Bill Campbell who started by being a sports coach and moved to become one of the greatest business coaches, working with Apple, Google and other big businesses. The book shared about a man who had a really big heart, lots of smarts and great people skills. Everyone who knew him had great things to say about him, and even after his death his practices and teachings live on in the companies he worked with.

The core of the book and what Bill was all about, is people. Bill was all about teamwork, communication, openness, honesty and trust. He recognized that it all comes back to people: that people are what make or break a company, sell a product/service, help a customer, or buy a product/service; that to care about people you have to care about people; and that it’s not always about the problem but about having the right people on the team to get things done.

Much of what was shared through this book emphasized that it’s not just about having people to fill spaces or do a job, but about having healthy teams, healthy relationships, healthy lives and healthy communications. It’s not about perfection or getting it right all the time or not having disagreements or not having weaknesses, but about doing what’s good for the community; creating a culture of safety, clarity, meaning, and impact so teams can thrive; having dependable people on your team; keeping everyone on the same page across departments; and creating victories for today and tomorrow.

When it all comes down to it, what Bill knew and taught throughout his life was that while teams are essential and invaluable, everyone is their own person, responsible for how they live their life, how they give back, how they love, how successful they are, how they communicate, what kind of leader they are and what difference they make in the world. Each person Bill came into contact with was challenged to be their best, give their best and love the best they could.

As we head into the last months of this year, I would challenge you to not (just) focus on getting products and services out the door to as many people as possible, but to be a people person, to genuinely care about the people you connect with and to make each person’s day that you connect with a little better.

Inviting in Change

Autumn began again yesterday. I always have a hard time accepting the beginning of autumn because it means winter soon follows. But that’s not a line of thinking that really benefits me, because there are tons of things I greatly enjoy about autumn like the beginning of gatherings of loved ones, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, hot apple cider (and all hot beverages), and autumn decorations. So I’m going to do my best this autumn to live in the moment and enjoy each day as it comes with whatever autumn related changes happen, and not think about what comes down the road weather wise.

But even if I am able to really enjoy each autumn day for what it is, there’s something you can’t miss or ignore about autumn, in fact autumn practically personifies it, and that would be change. You can’t talk about autumn and the changes of leaves, or the changes of temperature, or the changes of schedule, without change. Ironically the other morning as I was seeing leaves of bright colors outside my bathroom window and thinking about how my plans for the day weren’t going as anticipated, I thought of the old saying ‘plans change.’

Change is really one of the secrets of life and success. If you want to be successful there’s very little that you can be successful doing that doesn’t change in some way, shape, or form. For example, people still use candles just like they did thousands of years ago, but for many years many made them while now most buy them, and many buy them online, something that couldn’t have been done even just 30 years ago. Candles are still part of our lives, but there is much that has changed about the experience since those early days.

Autumn comes whether you invite it in or not, but you do have to invite in many aspects of change, especially if you want them to help you thrive in life. The harder you fight them, the more you ignore them, the further you push them down on your to-do list, not only will you be more miserable, you’ll also struggle more and find yourself further from the successes you may desire. It may not be easy to invite change in, but I suggest you don’t wait until you hit an emergency or a breaking point before making changes. Working with change also gives you the opportunity to have a say in what your future holds. Autumn has arrived, will you invite change into your life with it?

Persistence and Patience

I don’t know about you but I get a lot of emails each day. Almost all of them I’ve signed up for in one way or another, and my preferred method of communication is typically email. So at least 15% of the time I’m excited to open some of the emails, another 55% of the time I’m opening some emails hoping they’ll have something good in them, and the last 30% I’m not opening or sorry I opened because it’s a repetitive email that I’ve read 6 times already from them or someone else or it’s another request from a political candidate asking for money. Being in business I know there’s some value to sending repeat emails because some people do skip them or miss them or something along those lines and appreciate the reminder down the road, but that’s a rare case for me.

But it got me thinking about how we raise our children, what we’re teaching to the next generation about responsibilities and listening. I think it first reflects poorly on who we are as people and the fact that we need 6 emails, calls, texts or messages to be reminded of something or to get around to doing something. I’m not suggesting I do things the minute they cross my life or my desk all the time, just sad that too many lives have gotten so busy that many need multiple reminders of things. What about needing to say things 6 times before someone else hears them? I know I see that with kids today that a parent or sibling is doing something or talking to someone and they say that person’s name several times during the conversation or while that person is clearly busy. Besides the obvious of needing to learn to wait for their turn in a conversation, there’s blame on both sides of the line for those who think it’s OK to poke someone physically or verbally 6 or more times to try to get their attention, and on the other side for someone to not ask them to wait a moment after they hear the first request.

The third part of this is about persistence. Yes, it’s good to teach persistence to the next generation, they have to learn to be persistent if they really want to achieve their goals in life and become the best they can be. Few people will tell you that they got their success efforts right on the first try or were accepted with their first request. And thanks to technology today if you’re willing to make the effort there’s a good chance you can succeed on your own doing your own thing too.

Persistence is important to teach the next generation, but almost as important if not more is the lesson of patience. There’s no denying how far hard work can get you, but sometimes, especially when dealing with other people as we frequently do, the best thing you and your kids can do is slow down and wait. It’s not a forever wait, just waiting for a few seconds or maybe even a few days.  What are you teaching your kids and the next generations by your words and actions when you’re around them?

A Question of Value

If you’re in business you have to be making money, right? If you’re not making money (not enough to cover expenses), the old saying goes that you’ve got a hobby, not a business. I was having a conversation the other day with my partner about a program for the computer that has a pricey yearly fee, and he was considering paying that fee, and I told him that I use a different, open source, program that works just fine and I haven’t had any complaints from clients about it, or had any difficulty using it, and didn’t really notice any differences from that program and the open source one I use. It brought us into an extensive conversation about what we would be willing to pay on a yearly basis, why there is a cost to begin with, and whether the cost is reasonable or not.

Most people understand the need to pay for products and services. The business world has even done a fair job of explaining the concept of luxury goods and services and the value of paying extra or more for some products and services. Some businesses are better than others at explaining the value of their offerings, regardless of the price. I speak with businesses each week who struggle with their marketing not (just) because their marketing is weak or insufficient, but because they haven’t established the true value of their offerings. Sometimes a brand itself is enough to establish value, but more often than not it is up to the product or service to establish the value.

For extended return periods, free exchanges, free 2 day shipping, special/unique features, limited editions, a special cause or story or regular (quality) updates, yes, it’s understandably worth paying (a little) more. A company can easily retain faithful customers that are willing to invest a little more in their products or services because they offer things like this.

But the other is true as well. Because they offer a lower price or a small subscription fee, a company can gain customers that would not be willing to subscribe to more expensive subscription programs or would not make the investment in the more expensive product. Maybe it means a company has to be a little more creative about what they offer in the subscription or not offer all the bells and whistles another company might offer, but some customers are just fine with that.

It is possible that the number of people that are willing to pay the higher amounts make up for the customers that are lost because the price is higher, but it’s not something you should assume without doing proper research.

So what did my partner end up doing? As you probably guessed, he went ahead with the free open source computer program too. We both agreed that if the cost was more reasonable and better aligned with the lack of improvements and special features we would both have been willing to invest in it.  But the benefits aren’t worth the cost.

What about your costs and benefits? Is your company clear about the value you offer and why your pricing is what it is?

Frustrated With Failure

Today I’m feeling frustrated. I’m frustrated at the limitations we sometimes experience with our bodies. I’m frustrated that sometimes at the worst times possible things that seem so reliable (planes, phones, buildings) fail us. I’m frustrated that even with all the testing and trial we do some products still don’t work as they’re supposed to. I’m frustrated that all these things fail. I’m frustrated that we’re left holding the (empty) bag when all is said and done. I’m frustrated that some people seem like they just keep getting kicked and never get a break.

Failure is part of our growing experience.  Ask anyone who has experience growing plants and food, they will tell you that there are many factors that can affect the success of their crops and that even when they’ve learned the best practices and are following through with them, sometimes it still doesn’t work out because of something outside of their control.  The failure is almost more frustrating then because you’ve done everything right and it still didn’t work out.

But at the same time, when you’ve done everything right and something outside of your control gets in the way and you fail, it’s almost easier to pick yourself back up again and try again because you know how well it was going before and assuming there won’t be another exterior factor that interferes, you know what to do to be successful.

Failure is a hard lesson to be taught though, and it’s frustrating too when some people don’t seem to fail at all, they just seem to get lucky or get it right all the time.  But if you were to sit down with those people, chances are good they would have stories of failure they could share, even if they seem relatively inconsequential like a recipe turning out terrible for dinner the other night or accidentally putting a wrong item in the wash and everything turning a color.   These are more mistakes than failures, and a mistake is a level of failure, just not on the level of failing to grow a company or not having a successful growing season or the relationship not lasting.

Failure will typically beat you down. The question is what comes next.  Do you stay in the frustrated stage or do you work to pick yourself up and find some way to move on, even if it’s in a completely new direction?  There’s nothing that says you have to get it right the first time, just don’t give up when you experience a failure.

The Next Chapter in Advertising

Lately I’ve been thinking about advertising. I know, not a big shock considering I work with and write about businesses. One of the reasons it’s been on my mind is because of all the talk about privacy and the sheer number of ads that people typically see on a daily basis (one report indicates about 5,000 per day, but even if we’re only seeing a fraction of that it’s still a ton). I know I get several hundred emails in a day and many of them have a banner ad or some other type of promotion in them, then there are all the ads you see when you watch TV, or are driving down the street or are perusing your favorite shopping website.

If I’m honest I don’t have a problem with ads, and I don’t just say that because I’m in business and advertise. We have so much going on in our lives that ads and promotions are a good way to let people know about something a company is offering they may want or need, without us having to do all the work to find out what’s on sale or what’s new. But I do agree that some companies abuse the privilege of advertising. They spam you or don’t tell you about fees or hide key details that had you known you would have never clicked on the ad. I wish companies would be more responsible about ads, which brings us to the other topic: privacy.

I like my privacy as much as the next person, and like many people I do feel like some companies have more information than they should, and not all companies are as respectful of that data and that trust that people are placing with them. As a result of how some companies act, I’m not surprised by the uproar and the way that the hammer is really coming down on all things privacy and advertising, and I’m more than a little frustrated at these companies for causing so much fear and hesitance to end up on those of us businesses that are very careful and respectful.

So where does this leave businesses? I don’t think it means the end of advertising. It does mean that businesses should be more responsible because of the sheer number of options that people could switch to if they don’t like the practices of a business. It also means that it’s time for a change when it comes to how businesses are advertising. Businesses should clearly communicate with their customers regarding their ethics, and options when it comes to a customer’s privacy.

It also presents an opportunity for a business and customer to have more open conversation about what the customer wants to share with a company, what the customer wants from the company, how the customer wants it from the company, and why the company advertises/includes the advertisements they do. More people would be more open to ads if they knew they would be relevant to them, were at a frequency they were comfortable with. Likewise, people would be more willing to share some information, especially about preferences and interests, as long as the information that is requested is reasonable, and when it’s acted upon the customer and their privacy is respected and protected. And again, more people would be receptive to ads if they were delivered through a preferred means, and there are very few situations where only an email or only a mobile number would suffice, and would not be interchangeable, especially if allowing a customer to choose one or the other would mean someone would be receptive to getting information.

The advertising arena is changing, it’s a question of whether it becomes a customer vs. business thing, or if we’re able to figure out how to work together so that we still grow our businesses but we also respect and support our customers. How are you navigating the changing ad market?

9/11 Reflections, 18 Years Later

This week we’re switching things around and the regular business post will be published on Friday this week, to give me the opportunity to share some more family and relationship focused reflections today. Today is 9/11. 18 years ago 4 planes were used in a terror attack that devastated the lives of all Americans and countless others around the world were also affected by the actions of people who had a hatred towards what the US represents or has done.

If I’m honest it’s not something I can really understand. I don’t have a hatred so deep of something or someone that I can understand the willingness to make a plan to kill thousands of people, let alone little children.  I can’t imagine putting into action a plan that will definitely cause destruction, especially unknown destruction.  I understand the concepts of controlled burns when it comes to fire prevention, or about sacrificing one structure to make sure the others around them, and the people in them, are safe.  But I can’t understand the reasoning behind taking over planes and flying them into buildings where people live and work intentionally.

Each year we see footage and hear stories of the men and women who were there, of the fear they experienced, of their willingness to head into the zone even though they didn’t really know what they were heading into or what really happened.  I can remember all those years ago seeing it on TV for the first time and not really believing it.  But with report after report of loss of life and the many pictures and videos that were shown, I quickly knew that this was a reality and that not only had lives been lost but more men and women were putting their lives on the line for those who might be trapped.  It hurts to know that even today not all of the families have gotten to give their lost loved ones a proper burial, that some never really got to say goodbye.  It still hurts to know that people wanted to hurt people in this way.

But what I’ve been struck by today as I’ve watched some of the footage and read some of the stories of men and women who were killed or willingly put their lives on the line is about life.  We don’t often stop to think about the over 20,000 people who were saved because the first responders did their job.  We don’t think about their relief as they returned to their firehouses and found their brothers and sisters of the heart who had returned as well.  We don’t think about the gift of life that was given to people because people fought to bring the plane down over Pennsylvania instead of letting it get to the intended target.  We don’t think about the boys and girls who are alive and now looking at their 18th birthday without a parent that they never knew.

But the fact is they’re alive and so are we.  Yes, we should pause and grieve for the lives lost.  They are people who will never live to grow old or spend time with their families or have (more) kids or make an impact on the world in the way they thought they would.  But they would not want their legacy to be one of hatred, anger or grief.  Many gave their lives so we could be free and live our lives.  Choose to support those who put their lives on the line then and still today.  Choose to have hope for tomorrow.  Choose to make the world we share a better place, a place that tragedies like 9/11 will be fewer and farther between.  Choose to live today.

Your Own Steps to Success

Success is different for everyone. Yes, we can learn from others and copy their best practices, but their path to success may not work for us. It may be the exact wrong thing for us to do to get where we are hoping to get. It’s one reason why I think it’s important to evaluate the strategy or idea you’re considering implementing before just going ahead with it. It’s also a huge reminder how important it is to know yourself, your tendencies and your preferences.

For example one of the most widely shared success tips is to get up at 5 am and meditate or get your top items for the day done early. I am not a morning person. I never have been. I can get up when I have to for a client appointment in the morning, but I really don’t enjoy meeting the sun (I’m also partial to sunsets over sunrises). Another of the related oft-suggested success tips is to conquer the most important things on your to-do list in the first hour of your day, so when you first get to work or after you get the kids off to school. I saw this advice again the other day and it got me thinking about how I work and what works for me and what my brain is doing when I’m trying to do those “most important items” in the first hour.

But the more I tried to conquer those “top items,” the harder it got. Why? Because I was focused on the other things that I hadn’t done yet like the dishes in the sink or the laundry or my email or a dirty bathroom or social media or what I was going to make for dinner or groceries I needed to get or if a book was at the library for me. They may seem like insignificant things, and you may have your own list of things that goes through your head first thing, but each of those little things that aren’t technically priorities floating around my head made it take twice as long to get the true priorities done.

Instead, when I take care of those things first, when I have a clean email slate, when I respond to all the client messages, when I clean up the house first, I’m better able to get the true priorities done in the time that it should take them to get done and give them my full attention. Could I retrain myself to focus on the priorities first? Sure, but everything is getting done by the end of the day, I have a better peace of mind, I’m more focused and less distracted by everything around me.

Are you trying to adopt practices that have helped others be successful but really aren’t working for you? Maybe it’s time to reevaluate those practices and start making your own success practices and habits, and accepting what works for you instead of trying to do what works for someone else.