Monday, March 27, 2006

Not Even Half True

"The best companies have the best people."

This old business axiom exists with solidity-of-position -- like an element on the Periodic Table. You can find it...about where it says that "Employees should leave their personal lives at home," "If you let them work from home, you'll lose both control and productivity" and "They'll work harder for more money." Everyone knows it. But is it, well, true? I don't think so.

For example, companies have been doing everything to find the best employees, from psychometric testing, to credit checks, to work simulations, to individual and team interviews, to having them, um, you know, in that tiny paper cup. Having been in HR and tried these and other trusty tricks, I can tell you that assessing talent and skill is a smidge credentials-checking and a whole lotta gut and a whopping helping of crapshoot.

Why does so much of what we're being fed sound so plausible and offer so little? Why is so much of what passes for business wisdom (how shall I put it delicately?) poo-poo-ca (a business term I adopted from my young nieces who are never fooled by anything)?

According to authors Robert Sutton and Jeffrey Pfeffer, in their book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management, it devolves down to simple ciphers -- knowing and doing. Do it without knowing (what or why you're doing it) -- you're burnt toast. Do it without knowing enough -- you may wind up just toast (though, perhaps a little crispy).

In my work, I see smart, savvy business owners take the same actions over and over again, like they’re on a bad ride in an amusement park. When asked about their thinking and evidence behind their actions, they pause, stare and get very quiet. Sometimes its “We’ve always done it this way,” or “I read Blink! (the Malcolm Gladwell book about trusting your intuition), and I decided I needed to go for more gut-level decision-making.” Sometimes, a micro-business owner will try to template his business after a huge Fortune 500 company with tons of resources and lots more time to recover after an error or change in market forces.

My thought? Think! Ask better and better questions (and question everything – even what works -- to learn “why.”). Conventional wisdom is, by its very nature, designed to maintain status quo and even common sense is suspect in a business environment that’s anything but common.

Friday, March 17, 2006

LNB #005: Where Did My Time Go?

You start you week with a host of good intentions and end your week...who are you kidding? Your week never seems to end. Listen for common places where you may be "leaking time."

Duration: 12:36

LNB #004: Change or Die!

One out of nine.

That's the figure quoted in a recent Fast Company magazine article. It described the ratio of people who actually make life-saving changes when told to do so by medical personnel -- the kind of "if you don't stop your health the deteriorate and you'll die." One out of nine people, when faced with the real odds of death did what it took. Interestingly, the chief solutions to heart-related illnesses haven't changed in over 40 years. We all know what to do: get fit, eat a healthy diet, stop smoking, reduce stress, curb drinking. Knowing what to do doesn't give us any better odds of making it if our doc gives us that worried look.


We've even been told that we're hard-wired -- that, as we age, we get more rigid in our thinking making it harder to change. Studies now show that the human brain maintains its "plasticity" -- its ability to take on new challenges and expand its learning -- long into old age. We can even reverse many memory-related deficiencies if we stay intellectually stimulated.

"Change must be small and incremental," some say. When taken into the field of health, one study showed that those participants who were required to make broad, sweeping health changes fared better than another group required only to take one pill a day. After one year, two-thirds of that group had stopped taking their blood pressure control medication altogether while most of the former group (whose health habits were, essentially "nuked") were able to maintain those changes after over 3 years.

Taken into the realm of business, we know that the 5-year success rate of new firms is pretty dismal, hovering at around 15%. Essentially, one out of nine. We also know that having no written plan describing what people want, what we'll do to meet that want, how we'll find those prospects, what we'll charge, how we'll market to them and deliver the product (at the top of the list), and dealing with required resources (money, staff, time) we'll fail. No surprise here. What is surprising is that, knowing all this, businesses continue to fail at that some frightening rate. What's missing?

Like those heart patients, crisis, fear and the cold, hard facts aren't what it takes to motivate us to make the changes we need to make to keep our businesses alive. What does turn the tide is

  • Visionary thinking -- focused on feelings of joy and possibility ratherthan facts, fear and loss. What will life be like if my business grew by15% over expected results? My relationships? My participation in mycommunity?

  • Radical, sweeping, comprehensive shifts in operation with short-termcelebrations of progress. Celebrating business and personal victoriesalong the way keeps us motivated to achieve the broader goals.

  • New, critical supports to help shift company behaviors and lock in new, more effective, business habits. Partner with another staffer or trustedfriend, create an advisory group, or hire a coach or become part of a formalized group.

Producing breakthrough results in our businesses takes breakthrough thinking -- "re-framing". Like him or not, Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential bid was a very successful example of "framing." Clinton, keen to keep his focus on his campaign's core message "the economy," created the mantra "its the economy, stupid" to keep himself on point. Every question asked of him in every interview was filtered through the frame "the economy." Education? The economy. Farming? The economy.

To "change" a habit is, essentially, the work of creating a new one. To do so, we "simply" decide on another result, determine the actions necessary to achieve them and then commit to taking those actions over and over again until that new habit locks itself in. This can take several months to become fully "habituated" and, without support, its easy to fall back into old habits. This isn't a sign of weakness: its simple neurochemistry. The brain just needs to be re-tuned to different actions and different results. Seek support to create sustained change.

Coaching and masterminding are excellent tools that provide you with other ways to view common business practices and produce uncommon results.

If you're interested in seeing how Total Team Solutions can help you re-frame, re-think and produce uncommon results, contacts us to schedule an Complimentary Business Evaluation Session.

Read Fast Company's article: Change or Die

If you're interested in ordering Fast Company, click the image, left, for one of the savviest business magazines on the block!

Duration: 11:25 File Size: 2.74 MB

MP3 File

LNB #003: The 7 Deadly Sins of Marketing, Pt. 2

Lalita continues her interview with marketing expert, Leighton Haynes of Twin Phoenix, about the 7 things you can do to mess up your marketing!

Duration: 11:25 File Size: 2.74 MB

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Baby Cut Carrots

OK. One of my commitments in the development of my business this year is to take exquisite care of this body. So, in support of that, I've commited to eat something -- anything -- first thing in the morning. No excuses.

This morning it was carrots and coffee (and, yes, I realize that there's something amiss here, but you'll have to leave that alone). Munching happily on my little, crunchy orange delights, I spied something strange on the bag.

"Baby Cut Carrots" What does that mean?

Of course, fueled by the coffee (I am an tea drinker, so my brain was pinging back and forth to some interesting places), of course, I had to look it up on the 'net.

Here's the scoop: Baby "cut" carrots are not baby carrots -- those tender, young morsels that melt in your mouth. Baby "cut" carrots are sliced, shaved and whittled into the shape and size of naturally-occuring baby carrots.

Then it got funny.

Imagine: sweat shops with Girl Scouts -- one half whittling soap and the other churning out faux baby cuts or immigrant workers, well you get it. And what happens to the rest of the carrot? Are there mounds of carrot shavings, like orange sawdust, piling up in some baby cut carrot mill? Should there be a warning label: "There were carrots mutilated in the development of this product?"

I'm headed off to the gym. Find something funny today, oh, and take care of your body -- no matter how slammed you get today. It's the only one you'll be issued.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Hayes Quits South Park Over...Huh?!

Have you ever watched "South Park?" It's an adult cartoon that makes fun of, well, everything: the handipcapped, women, Mormons, the aged, Muslims, Christian, Jews, Blacks, cows.

Ten years. One hundred and fifty episodes. Nothing sacred.

However, when co-founders Trey Parker and Matt Stone poked fun at his controversial faith, Scientology, rumbly baritone, Isaac Hayes, remembering his civil rights activist past, took it as intolerant bigotry and called it quits.

What I find troubling is that this isn't an isolated blip. South Park, as a brand, is known for riping on every sensitive thing out there. It's what they do: I get it -- it's their schtick. It's how Hayes sat silently while these things happened, piping up only when his favored cause was in the crosshairs. One episode I tuned in on depicted Satan and Jesus in a WWF-style match. Isaac? Silent at the grave. I turned the channel.

In our dealings, we can strive for personal and professional consistency, moving -- not to be perfect -- but to at least to be recognizable from situation to situation. Religious? Be that everywhere -- not just where it's expedient. Irreverant? The same. People will get who you really are.

Me? I find the world a pretty humorous place and I try not to take things (or myself) too seriously. I fail at that, mostly, taking some things (the big things that matter to me) very seriuosly. It's not easy finding the balance, but it's my gig, this turn of the Wheel of Life.

Now to business.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

International Business Is Getting Harder

Doing business is getting tougher. Business and communication-related freedoms that we take for granted can get you locked up abroad and can have you bumping up against the Patriot Act here. In China, which practices strick censorship, hosting a website, or providing certain common business offerings could get you a call from a representative of the Chinese government -- and your client jailed. And amazingly the 8 million plus links to Britney Spears aren't available over the net in China (hmmm).

Web logs (blogs) are a common tool for personal and professional expression and are rapidly being seen as viable business tools. In a recent conversation with the principle of a marketing consultantcy, he explained that they were going to use a blog-style web presence for their personal and professional branding site. He shared that, in his business, personal style was the thing and the at blog would allow them to really connect personally with their clients and prospects -- sharing personal opinions about how everything from market trends to goverment regulations are impacting his clients. That ability to freely post opinions and insights isn't universal.

Microsoft and Google have already felt the pinch and have, surprisingly, acquiesced to the demands of these other governments. Google now shows a different search response set to those in China and other countries -- a response set that conforms to their regulations.

Rather than making these countries wrong, my suggestion is that we work to understand that these countries are in the process of progress as is our own. This last century saw unheralded rights protections for women, children, Blacks, Native Americans, gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, and religiuos minorities. We have to create offerings that touch our prospects without running afoul of their regs and being excluded while they continue their path to growth.

Further Reading
In China, Blogs Are Revolutionary Tool of Opinion
Google News and China

The Remarkable Dana Reeve

Dana Reeve died this week of complications from lung cancer. She'd faced, with love and grace, at the tender age of 34, the permanent paralysis of her husband, Christopher Reeve (Superman), fought for better treatment options for the paralyzed, lost him to bed sores (imagine dying because you can't move to relieve the pressure of sitting or lying down in one position too long). She lost her husband and, soon afterward, was diagnosed with lung cancer.

NPR's Melissa Block interviews a key staffer at the Chistopher Reeve Foundation.

What makes this noteworthy for us and particularly for us in business is her remarkably she lived her life. When asked in Novenber, how she kept her spirits up she said "I had a great model. ... I was married to a man who never gave up."

Not after so many kicks in the pants in such a short period of time.

Seth Godin, in his book The Big Moo : Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable, challenged us to be remarkable in our businesses and business dealings. Much of what we see as remarkable is what happens when we're remarkably bad or stupid (Enron, Martha Stewart, Gary Glitter, etc.), but we see little of what it takes to be, well, remarkably good, remarkably steadfast, remarkably committed. Dana did that.

Thank you.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Nekkid on the 'Net

Morning routine. Get up, clean up, dress up (or down) and turn on the news while I fix a cuppa tea. This morning it was Fox and Friends (don't ask me why...I couldn't even begin to explain my attraction for that channel). The story I came in on was about a man whose nude telecommuting so bothered his wife that she got her neighbors to sign a petition banning him from the practice. That stopped me mid-stir. Trying to imagine the over-the-fence conversation that must have been between our naked teleworker's wife and the rest of the cul-de-sac "Barbara, I've got this petition. Jim's been working from home sans trou and we've got to put a stop to it."

Made my head hurt.

While I was smugly watching the Fox and Friends hosts titter about the perils of naked telecommuting, I had to pause for a minute. I had some otherwise questionable at-home business operations tactics that worked for me but would raise a few eyebrows. I used to like to work one afternoon a week holed up in my bedroom in my sweats with the cat on my lap and a coffee on the side table. Hubby Garland would call it the nest. But it worked for me and proved to be some of my most productive time. I'm not geared to travel to an office and be creative.

I feel for the poor sot with the lack of attire and the wife with the petition drive. He clearly knows how he best works. I'm glad for him -- and glad he's not my neighbor.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cool Water....Hot Ideas

I set up a water cooler. Not the kind you're thinking of -- with, um, water. But a virtual cooler, where people could get together and talk. Mostly, we don't think of loafing a way of getting things done, but the process of getting together with people -- at breaks in the action -- to talk about anything tends to get the juices flowing.

We talk over chat lines mostly, sometimes over conference calls. The gatherings are irregular, when we have a few minutes to fix a cuppa or grab a soda. They're not scripted or "agendized." Just a chance to catch up and toss out an idea -- or not.

In a recent water cooler chat, Leighton, who was at the Barnes and Noble store in DC hanging out until his next gathering offered a great new idea for new process name, while reading off the names of some interesting books he was considering (don't do it,'ll need another office for all your reading material).

Entrepreneurs (which, I guess now means anyone with a business) tend, of necessity, to be a solitary lot. Most of the people they deal with during the business day are customers, employees, vendors and suppliers. What's missing is the chance to loaf -- to talk about last night's installment of "The Sopranos" or to lament about the game (lost again). What else ends up happening at these short gatherings? Ideas get shared, intelligence gathered and introductions made.

I've heard lots of really bad (funny, but bad) things about Starbucks lately. One of the best was the bumper sticker that said "Friends don't let friends go to Starbucks." Choice. But, as much as we may cringe over the ubiquitious nature of the Mighty Bean, its a tremendous water cooler.

Try this: create your own water cooler. It can be at the gym or the salon or the After Hours networking event you attend. Try it.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

OK. I'm Green.

I was sitting in my favorite chair at "my Starbucks" (I was warned by the staff there about visiting "other" SB locations), catching up with personal and biz buddy, Toby. His phone rang and after answering it, he explained that in the months he's owned it, he hasn't learned to do more than send and receive phone calls.

I had to look and it was MY phone -- the palmOne Treo 650 PDA Phone. The one I really want. The one that slices, emails, dices and can change the asimuth on your satellite dish. It's like having a Mazurati and only driving it in first gear. And yes, I sound awfully smug. And, no, I still don't have one.

I cheerfully helped him receive a beamed contact. OK, almost cheerfully.

I've got a problem.