Archive for March, 2011

I’m Going to Fire You

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

failThe greatest predictor of success is failure. That’s true whether you are quitting smoking, shooting free throws or taking on a new function at work. Competence and reliable performance are born from learning why one route is a mistake and finding which micro changes of action and thought or macro alternatives of mindset and presence manifest achievement.

Using new reliable choices looks like mastery. Wow – you can do this in your sleep! Ugh – you can do this in your sleep!

Embrace failure

With any luck, pretty soon after you master your function, you get or create a stretch goal that plunges you back into mistake-making. We call this the gift of lifelong learning. If you don’t keep learning, you’ll eventually feel miserable, experience burnout, and become guilty of over-posting on Facebook.

Smart bosses, managers and business owners embrace failure among themselves, and their subordinates, peers, superiors, vendors, partners and customers.  It may not seem like it as we stare dumbfounded or shout: “You did what?” but we do expect occasional failure. After all, most of us learned on other people’s dimes, and we live today to remember our worst mistakes and how they got fixed or endured.

In my third week as an account coordinator at the second largest ad agency in the US, I placed a full-page ad for a client, in the Sunday Los Angeles Times…with the wrong phone number.  I won’t give you details of the fix, but it wasn’t simple or cheap.

Here’s the key to my success. I apologized and worked on the fix. I did not have a litany of why I made the mistake, where I got the wrong phone number, why I didn’t proofread it before it was sent to publish, and who above me should have caught it, and so on. I said I was sorry and asked what could I do right now. If I’d had any suggestions, I would have offered them. I did get in my car and go to the office to help work out the phone transfer.

Hopefully new mistakes

One year later, having been promoted in the same company to account manager, I lived through my coordinator doing exactly the same thing, just in a different publication.  Something like it has happened with every person I’ve ever worked for and with, or who has worked for me. Mistakes happen. Hopefully each mistake is a new one. We succeed when we apologize, do our part in the fix and often move on to do great work, which includes making new mistakes.

What happens if you don’t apologize and work on the fix?

What if you lie, bluster, woodenly recite all the events that led to it including your breech birth and the last time you saw that request, or get angry (with yourself or me) or sit and stare at me? I will fire you. I might not do it today because I still need your body and the parts of your brain that have history on the account, but I will look forward to your leaving from today forward. Because you leave me no recourse. I can only correct your mistakes. I cannot rehabilitate your character.

Mistakes are a double-edged sword

So mistakes are at once part of your potential to build a reputation for being an honest, hardworking and helpful employee or a defensive, dodgy and damned one. It’s your choice. It’s your career. It’s your personal brand.

Here’s what you should do. Immediately embrace your failure – in fact, if you are lucky you can bring attention to the mistake before anyone else finds it. Apologize. Participate in the fix.

Don’t make your boss or company the victim of your embarrassment, shame, anger, rage, unease, self-loathing and really stupid behavior, or whatever you do when you get a call on Sunday because you missed a really, really crucial part of the project and there’s a huge mess because of it.

Personal brands, take every opportunity to be the person we want to promote, recommend, refer and evangelize for. When you make a mistake, it’s your golden opportunity to take a huge leap forward toward being the brand we want to buy under any circumstances.

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Why You Lose It

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

blog1In Manhattan Beach last week, I sat first row in the Getting Things Done productivity seminar, bent on mastering David Allen’s system that I’ve been studying for about five years. I’m local in Los Angeles, but many people had flown in and paid nearly $600 for six hours of “creating a mind like water.” Yes, being productive isn’t just to-do lists and cleaning out your email, it’s creating space in your brain. That takes a commitment to getting everything out and organized mostly by context – that is, where you can get whatever it is done. A regularly scheduled and ad-hoc mind sweep of all your next steps and projects, lets you do your creative work or be fully present in a meeting without “need yogurt!” or “revise book!” doing pop-up video in your brain, and ruining your focus on the now.

That was then, this is now

So what’s wrong with my trip into organizer heaven? The system was invented almost 30 years ago (although the book was a bestseller just five or so years ago). I’ve bought everything GTD: books, CDs, ebooks, planners, cheat sheets and now the seminar. But, there is no GTD smart phone app, software or web/cloud app. In part, I attended the seminar to find out what other GTD fans are using, and it’s a wide spectrum of choices, none ideal.

The founder, David Allen has refused to create an electronic or digital system, even in the face of millions of GTD fans needing it. Instead, various unrelated companies have adapted it and produced solutions. So you have to ask around to see what other fans have found and then poke around each choice to see for yourself. Of course, because the GTD people won’t even certify apps, none of them follow the GTD system in an ideal way.

Collaborating your brand?

It’s like learning Latin and finding out there’s nowhere, except a few Catholic churches and the university, to speak it. With all the benefits of learning and knowing Latin, it’s still not a critical business tool. So Latin is its own reward. But, GTD is meant to be the lynch pin of a rich, successful and productive work life.

David Allen apparently believes his company’s core competency is the system he created and a few paper based tools, plus coaching and seminars. The competency does not extend to people using the system. For that you are on your own. It’s like making cream of carrot soup for a family meal, but absenting the bowls, spoons and napkins that make eating it possible. Just dig in everyone!

How often are you leaving out what it will take to use you, your system, product, service, or offering after you get the initial buy in?  Offer everything – or partner up and get a trusted provider to offer what you don’t. Don’t falsely believe that once you’ve invented or discovered something – a system, product, proposal, or a new skill you want to sell, that the rest of us will fill in the blanks. Not only do you lose the ancillary revenue, you may lose the buyers you worked to gain.

You lose out when you make it hard on us to have a relationship with you.

Don’t focus on the relationship you want with us, your market. Focus on what we want from you.

Invention is an iterative process. In the best companies and with the best consultants, your customer is your collaborator.

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I Disagree with Dale Carnegie

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

100430-dale-carnegie-vmed-10a.grid-2x2If you haven’t read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, then you’re missing three quarters of what you need to know to succeed – in whatever venture or job you’re in.

How do you feel about that?

He gives you some pointers – life rules, really – that will instantly change how people feel about you. And, remember personal brands – first you need to get attention, but after that you must make an emotional connection.

So, how people feel about you really, really matters. Feelings are a huge influence on how people decide what they can and will do for you. Feelings – not thoughts – ignite acts of kindness. That means the job offer, raise, promotion, recommendation, purchase, investment – these are just some of the life changing behaviors that you need to catalyze in other people, and they all start with a good feeling about what you’ve written or said. Not necessarily complimentary – good feelings often come from receiving remarkable requests (and ideas).

Consider the odds of someone doing something on your behalf – even people who know you. Every day, most decision-makers get better than one hundred emails, run some portion of about 150 projects or tasks, have a telephone ringing or texting 10 hours (plus) and take the requisite bio-breaks (food, water, shower, and sleep). They even try to have fun, get in some time with friends and family, maybe learn something and, oh yes, fight the traffic (real or virtual).

So, do you see exactly what you are trying to rise above in their hearts, as well as their minds? That’s why being liked is equally important to being respected. This may also answer your question, “Why doesn’t anyone call me back?” Or, “I’ve sent 100 resumes and haven’t heard anything.” Or, insert your “why aren’t people doing what I need them to do complain/concern: _____________________________________.”

Does likeability equate to respect?

On Sunday in Los Angeles, I did the second in a series of seminars for filmmakers, this time with former HBO executive Michael Garcia who produced: insert every HBO series you’ve loved here. It was stunning to see this young man speak about his career and give us insight into the way he conducted himself – which never changed as his personal brand gained equity.

At HBO, he created a living room rather than an office for himself – so other people would feel comfortable coming in to talk with him. Writers, producers, actors, executives – the big personal brand names and those who were up and coming or have a chance to be up and coming. Michael made them all welcome.  Likewise at the seminar, he made himself accessible to every member of the audience who wanted a word with him personally. And to make an impression on (and get attention) a person would have to do more than agree with him on all his points.

Which leads to my disagreement with Dale Carnegie. The man who corralled Michael and all of us to speak at the seminar is CEO of Voyage Media Nat Mundel, who always advises the audience to read Carnegie’s work as a way to prepare for the pitch meetings they’ll be having.

For example, no matter what the head of a company says (or anyone else you interact with), never use these words, “You are wrong.” Nat and Carnegie are both right in this case, this is advice to live by. Even if you are the boss, those words are a relationship killer (although your subordinates will do the requisite head bobble in the moment).

But, the bone I pick with Carnegie is his principle number 1: “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.” Personal brands, you can’t live much of the life you want if your number one rule is avoidance. You need to be an approach person – you need to deliver attention-provoking, even heart-stopping proclamations that will engender resistance (aka argument).

Embrace the resistance

You simply need to show you warmly embrace the resistance you get from other people. Affirm them and hear them, even as you make an opposing case. Be one of those little met smart AND congenial people who are all about killer ideas – plus the killer kindness that takes the sting out of mixing it up.

So, check how you’re doing on the “how do I make them feel” question. Are you both likeable and compelling to listen to?

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The Eeek True Hollywood Story

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

gen_meeting_size03_lgOn Sunday afternoon, I spoke on personal branding to a group I’d never guessed needed to be coaxed into communicating: Hollywood screenwriters. But, there I was on behalf of Voyage Media and a line-up that included a producer, director, development exec, agent-type and other uber-connected people who have come together to help get these people packaged, pitched and on their way to the bottom of the food chain that is the life of Hollywood screenwriters.

Wow, once you look behind the curtain of how a script makes its way onto the screen, you really would rather watch sausage being made – at least if you look at it from the writers’ perspective. Just getting “covered” (which on horse farms means a stallion mounts a mare but in Hollywood means your script is being passed around an agency) is pretty close to what’s happening to that mare. Ouch.

It’s like that old joke that ends: “we know what you are, now we’re just discussing the price.” There’s no question about selling out. It’s the answer.

Selling out

Here’s why. Once a script magically makes its way past the gold toned gates of a talent agency, production company or management firm, one executive after another takes a stab at the writer’s work. Each time, the result is “notes” that the writer must incorporate. Oftentimes, this feedback completely changes the tone, the characters, the story and even the genre. Oh, that romantic comedy we’re thinking of buying from you? Make it a sci-fi fantasy and let’s talk when you have the changes – not ready to pay you option money yet, okay?

Whatever you do for a living, it’s nearly impossible to believe your work product could be treated worse than a script. But like every Sisyphean task, there’s always a Sisyphus to do it. And, this is Hollywood. There’s a long line waiting to get to the bottom of the mountain.

As today’s event planner put it, I was the “clean-up” hitter, the last speaker before everyone came back on stage for a full on panel discussion. So, I’d had a head full of OMG as each speaker before me laid it on the line about what these writers had to do or endure.  The audience was amazing – literate, imaginative, soulful people who have stories that perhaps the whole world may see in more than living color – could be coming to your multi-plex in 3D!

It was – and it is – my job to help people define and communicate their personal brands. In Hollywood, there is a tsunami of competitors – probably a lot like your industry or job. And, it turns out that writers – professional wordsmiths – struggle to define themselves, promote themselves and capitalize on their unique talent as much or more than most of us.

The great aha I had today is this. The struggle with personal branding is the amount of content we accumulate about ourselves.

What you are likely struggling with isn’t a lack of greatness, depth or breadth of your interests, talents and ambitions – or your awareness of all that you are and can become.

The struggle is limiting yourself to just a few words. But, that’s all we – your target audience, prospects, referral sources, recruiters and the like – can take in. That’s all we can carry as we try to place you, recommend you or remember you.

So, write the whole story – and then, as they would have said in old days, leave everything  but a few choice words on the cutting room floor.

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Be Unpopular

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

fancy-restaurantOn Sunday night, I had dinner at RockSugar in Century City (the Jetson-style skyscraper park in Los Angeles). It’s typically impossible to get into, unless you are willing to wait a few hours. Along with my “I’m hungry now!” family, I waltzed into this one-of-a-kind Pan Asian palace, which is lined with golden statutes of Thai Buddha heads twice as tall as the tallest man I know and burning fire pits enclosed in shimmering glass throughout the cabana style outdoor seating area.

When the rest of the world goes right – you go left

We enjoyed a ten-course tasting menu. On a whim, we bought an enamel belt buckle cobbled by an artisan oceans away, which we saw on the waiters who were walking rather than running around the room. The maître de brought it over to us, himself.

Three weeks ago, also on a Sunday, we rolled into Blue Plate Oysterette, a hot as Lady Gaga dining spot in Santa Monica where the vibe is so cool, I’m not sure I belong there, even when I finally get a table. Although when I do it is cheek to jowl with Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon and Jim Toth (agent/betrothed). Try the macaroni and cheese with lobster; it’s to die for.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

Last Sunday night was the Oscars, featuring the more famous golden statue. All the celebrities and their support personnel: agents, managers and such folks are locked up in the Kodak amphitheater, or in fabulous ballrooms with the likes of Elton John. The remaining civilians of Los Angeles are home watching the extravaganza on TV, along with a billion other viewers at home around the world.

The streets and restaurants are empty.

Did I mention I was doing something unpopular, when I could have been holed up at home in front of my television? I was enjoying a most delicious dinner at an unusually unhurried pace with three servers and the maitre’ d, fussing over my party.

On Superbowl Sunday, I had a similar delicious and gracious experience at the penultimate café by the beach. My party was fine dining by the sea while nearly everyone else was sticking a stale chip into a questionable mixture of avocado and who knows what.

These are the rewards of doing something different than most of the rest of the world does, at least gastronomically speaking.

Are you willing to be unpopular to get what you want and enjoy it? Are you willing to work while others sleep? Are you willing to wear a tie or whatever is the female equivalent, when your friends get to wear flip-flops? Are you willing to work Christmas Eve day, when all the secretaries are gone and the decision-maker just might answer your phone call?

The path to success has never been more obvious than it is today. Winning personal brands are going against the tide of common behavior, attitudes and two-thumbed communication. You must be uncommon.

Being uncommon

Come in early and stay late. Take people to lunch – not meet for coffee. Buy stationary and write notes (and mail them!). Buy someone a book that reflects your intellect instead of sending a link to its page on Amazon.

Be cordial. Be curious. Be generous. Be a real friend. Be a great employee or consultant or songwriter, or whatever it is you are. Yes, the people in the next office, cubicle or table at Starbucks might sneer. You risk losing your regular guy reputation when you raise your standards.

The fastest way to raise the odds of your being a success is doing what is unpopular. And, that’s delicious.

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