Archive for August, 2012

Does Karma Matter? Try It and See

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

imagesNot being from India or anyplace where the concept of karma is taught much less embraced, I am unexpectedly buoyed by the idea that something you do today will effect your next life or next meeting. Once again, not having been formally schooled in karma, I’m not quite sure of the details, including just how quickly a good turn begets another.

I come from Manhattan, where NOT filching someone’s parking spot or cab will get you dirty looks from everyone who would have, had they enjoyed the access you had. Maybe that’s the stereotype, but it’s also true more often than not in my experience. Of course, Manhattan also has a surfeit of legitimate theater, the intellectual cornucopia of 92nd street Y and bagels at the Broadway Deli to die for.

So when I came out to Los Angeles, which looks a lot like a laid back place because almost no restaurant is open after 10 PM, it looked a lot more calm and forgiving than it actually is. LA is not a friendly town. In part, the distance between where you live and anything else you do is traversed only by car, with a smattering of wistful public transit options that might one day allow you to go from downtown to the beach (as if that’s the only route we would travel in this sprawling non-city of a city).

Karma comes up because there are a nearly endless number of anonymous people you can ignore since other than your clutch of friends and business associates, pretty much no one interacts. It’s kind of like Dirty Dancing. This is my dance space and this is your dance space.

Where you live it’s probably somewhere between LA and Manhattan, if not geographically at least metaphysically, emotionally or spiritually. But no matter where you live – including the places you live online like your blog, FB page, Instagram,  G+ circle, Twitter, Pinterest and the like:

Have you ever considered how you feel and act toward strangers might one day be visited back on you?

Would that change the way you interact with people?

Would that make you offer some help to a tourist, pull over if you are driving too slow while attempting to find a parking place, tweet where there’s a traffic jam, or phone a former work colleague to check in on her job search?

You may be counting calories, cataloging your wardrobe into the new Closet app, or do a project management plan to organize and measure the progress of a business plan.

Have you considered monitoring how much good karma you earn each day? If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – and by “it” I mean your behavior.

How would your outlook, prospects for the future and good fortune possibly be framed or changed, if you believed that by doing good for others you did well for yourself.

I was recently given a compliment that felt as momentous as a blessing. A former student who is a big deal at a major studio asked me to write a letter or recommendation for her. It was a pleasure to write – her project had been deftly created for our class and her work ethic got her the sometimes two hour drive from work to school for 12 weeks. When I simply said, “Yes, thank you for asking me.” She replied, “Wow, you must have great karma.”

Her words fell on me like a soft warm blanket on a hail struck, cold night.

I wish you great karma.

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Be Careful What You Call Yourself

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

hot-beer-lousy-food-bad-service-welcome-have-a-nice-dayThere’s a local tavern in West Los Angeles named Mom’s Bar. Given that we have an extraordinary gastropub in town named Father’s Office, Mom’s fits in as part of the cool, local scene. You can raise a few after work, or pop in later when the trendier crowd arrives and creates a hip club scene.

Mom’s Bar. Sounds like a nice place. It was.

Last weekend, a co-worker went there with his wife. They are typical locals having a drink at 7:30 PM. Low key and relaxed, they happen to be on the quiet side, very courteous and polite.

At work, he’s the guy who pops into my office only when he’s got something interesting to say. From time to time, he snaps a photo of my dog doing something silly, and sends it like a little gift into my email inbox. I always seek him out when I need good advice on a whole host of issues, technology, vendor management, and purchasing particularly. He also steps up when my business partner is off, taking on the questions and requests from staff, vendors and clients that I can’t handle on my own. He’s also an inventor, so he’s on top of all kinds of trends. He’s solved a particularly miserable health problem of mine with a recipe he cooked up.

So why would such a great guy with a terrific wife stop in for one drink after work, and get tossed out of Mom’s Bar?

He happens to have a congenital eye condition. Light causes searing pain if he doesn’t wear dark lenses. He wears them all the time. We’ve never had a client or anyone else even mention it at work, at home when we entertain a group for parties, or even when we were working with the The New Girl’s producers, who used our location for a shoot. It’s clear that he’s not trying to be cool by wearing shades indoors. It’s clear he’s rather heroically managing a major medical problem, very gracefully.

Apparently, you can’t have a disability and get served at Mom’s Bar. Not even after a polite explanation by a very articulate couple, who were just quietly going about their lives.

There’s an epidemic of this kind of stupidity, not just among small businesses that make the mistake of treating local customers badly. Think about the service you get at Staples, Best Buy, and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

If I depended on the staff at Staples to help me really stock up on the staples I need for work, I would risk owning the worst possible printer, phones that don’t function and “sale” items that aren’t on sale. Oh! I did risk that. And got attitude just for shopping there.

Best Buy is pretty much the worst buy possible. There’s a lot manufacturers’ field reps milling around in the aisles talking down the competition, but rarely any store staff or any inventory.

And Bed, Bath and Beyond is almost beyond imagination. The last time I went the check-out clerk asked if I had any coupons. I did not. She moaned, “Wow, that’s too bad because this is going to really cost a lot.” It did. I didn’t realize that we’re paying a 20% surcharge by not having coupons (which brings down items to regular price). Way to make me feel stupid for shopping at your store!

So Mom’s isn’t alone. Retail, restaurants and just about anywhere you buy anything seem to have lowered the bar on courtesy, common sense and customer service.

The fix? How about writing a mission statement that embraces good business practices – and reading that aloud everyday? Or how about re-naming your business for what you actually do provide? Some come to mind.

Might Still Be Fresh Raw Seafood Bar (got sick last Saturday night in Beverly Hills)

We Have a Whole Lot of Electronic Junk (Chain store pushing old tech in its ads)

You’ll Stand in Line and Get a Really Messy Dressing Room (Shopping mall retailers)

What is the lesson that personal brands can take away?

All you have is your name. Make sure when it comes to our minds, you’ve done what it takes to make us smile, remember what you do well and look for ways to help you get where you want to go. That’s what your name means when you are a really well managed brand with your audience uppermost in your mind.

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New Rules for Parties Personal Brands

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

summer-bbq-partyI just threw our annual summer BBQ, and it would have been called the party of the season, if we still referred to entertaining that way. Most of us have stopped using the word entertaining as a verb.  In fact, “entertaining” is now passive – and it’s an adjective.

For example, you might refer to one of the less disgusting, more amusing antics of the Kardashians, as entertaining. As in, “The Kardashians were less hateful and foul with each other this week. The show was almost entertaining.”

But, I digress (as I often do).

My point is people don’t give a lot of dinner parties or events at home. They don’t invite people over with the intention of showing them a good time. They don’t spruce up their homes and put out nice towels, new soap and clean off the counters. They don’t construct a menu and make a special shopping trip, and take time to make the food, or at least assemble it attractively.

Instead, they might have someone over “to chill.” Have someone “hang out.” Come over and “throw back a few beers.”

Why does this matter? What’s the big get for personal brands who aren’t used to “entertaining?”

It matters because throwing a dinner party, a Sunday brunch or BBQ – or as a friend recently did, a Christmas in July party at the beach, should make you conscious of meeting the needs of other people. It should compel you to seek to delight them, with the effort you make in pairing drinks with appetizers, side dishes with entrees and a selection of desserts. Putting together a great background mix of music. Putting out some flowers. Getting an interesting crowd of people together who might not know each other yet.

That’s the most important part. Hosting a party at home involves introducing people to one another. Finding a connection between them in your brain that allows you to point out something special they have in common. Then getting them started in conversation about the point you made, and hopefully moving on to other topics of mutual interest. By then of course, you’ll have moved on to other people you welcome and introduce, share a laugh and begin your hosting duties anew as you make the rounds. .

At least that was the way it WAS when we entertained other people at home. Or how it IS for those of us who still do.

Entertaining is a lot different than clearing some space on your patio, throwing a few snacks on the table and letting people sit talking to the person they came with (or no one if they came alone). That’s a place people can’t wait to leave.

Try this, newly inspired would-be entertainers.

1. Plan a date with a set time period to have 6 people over – or like I did Sunday, a group of fifty or more.

2. Send an invitation and make sure you know who will actually be there. Don’t expect people to RSVP – call and ask if they can come. Make them feel it matters – that they matter.

3. Clean up your home. Put out clean towels. Buy some candles. And prepare food that doesn’t come in a bucket or pre-wrapped in a bag. You know, make an effort.

4. On the big day (or night), dress smartly.

5. Greet people with a warm welcome. Walk them into your home and introduce them to the other people there. Not: “Hey everyone. This is Sandy!” Try: “Sandy, I’d like you to meet Lee – he’s just been to Costa Rica and I know you’re considering taking a vacation there. Lee – what can you tell Sandy about your trip?”

6. Continue working – yes, working, your party. Don’t get drunk. Don’t stand in one place and yak with your best friend. Keep your eyes peeled for a guest that’s drowning as another one drones on. Drop in on the twosome, and say – “I must take Sandy a way for a moment – she must tell Jim about her experience with the new beverage he just introduced into the market!”

7. Help people enjoy themselves.  Scan the room to see who needs a fresh drink, a napkin, a new person to talk to  – or the location of your restroom.

You’ll take pride in hearing as you escort your guests to the door at the party’s end: “Now, that was entertaining! Thank you for such a wonderful time!”

Entertaining will improve your reputation, your skill set and the approach you take when meeting anyone, anywhere. How’s that for building your personal brand: one person and one party at a time?

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Career Advice from HBR: Zig, Zag, Zoom!

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

6629693989_6c5647d717_zIn this month’s Harvard Business Review, global search executive Claudio Fernandez Araoz listed nine winning qualities when it comes to evaluating a candidate’s leadership potential.

–       Flexibility

–       Empathy

–       Organizational awareness

–       Relationship management

–       Curiosity

–       Insight

–       Inspiration

–       Determination

–       Motivation

What’s even more interesting is that top-level recruiters are also looking for people who have switched it up a good bit. That is, ideal candidates have moved around, taken risks and yes, even failed. Moving around includes changing jobs, changing careers, going from corporate to consulting, small business to big companies (and the reverse), moving from one country to another and taking up new hobbies, causes and interests.

Why would such a peripatetic course be so compelling? The answer might come from successful start-ups. About 70% of superior small companies wind up succeeding in businesses that were not in their original business plan. They put their figurative toes in the water, and realized it was too cold or in some other way not right. So, they looked around for other opportunities, niches and needs they could fulfill, and steered themselves to underserved target markets. It is of course, why entrepreneurial ventures have such a huge advantage when it comes to disrupting roadmaps. There is no legacy to cling to. No prior investments. No ties that bind. Consider what that means to an individual career.

Can you operate the same way and win? Probably. If you are driven to succeed and willing to cultivate the skills and intelligence it takes, along with keeping up good relationships with those whom you are leaving (and those whom you are seeking to serve anew).

Of course, no recruiter is looking for a candidate who randomly stops and starts, or picks up on a whim and leaves clients or companies high and dry (shouldn’t that be low and soaking wet?). Well, you know what I mean.

You’ve got to tell a coherent story about why you moved on or moved away. Answers like, “a new challenge,” “to learn a new marketplace,” and “to leverage my education by adding to it with a complementary skill,” will gain you points. So, think about zigging and zagging along your career path rather than attempting to climb straight up. That might mean you take a salary cut to transition to a new field, or you work-study longer into the day or night than your peers. It might mean selling your business to someone (perhaps an employee or interested consultant) or even closing it when all the ends are tied up neatly.

Leaders are both brave and responsible. They seek to innovate even as they provide stability to others. The most significant and rewarding careers are filled with unusual experiences and the ability to take stock rather than simply lumbering forward. Start today by evaluating where you are and imagining what you need to experience, in order to get where you ultimately want to go.

Now zig, zag, zoom!

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