Is the World Ready for Your Big Idea?

bbbLately I’ve been watching a unique cooking show on the Cooking Channel called Big Bad BBQ Brawl.  It involves two brothers, Shannon and Big Rich Ambrosio who own a successful BBQ food truck in Brooklyn, New York, traveling the country competing with local chefs in a fun competition.

On a recent episode, the Ambrosio brothers entered a full BBQ competition in Florida.  This meant that they competed against real Pitmasters in three types of meat: brisket, ribs, and chicken.  Wanting to dazzle the judges who were used to traditional sweet southern flavors, they opted for Italian style brisket, Vietnamese-flavored ribs, and non-traditional chicken.

They didn’t place in any category.  And they were very disappointed.

Here’s the lesson:  While the food was good, the Florida judges weren’t ready for it.  A good idea at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We’ve probably experienced that too haven’t we?  We have a great plan in our heads for a new process and the boss shoots it down.  We come up with a new product or service we KNOW our customers will love and they simply blow it off.  We try to impress our partner or spouse with a new restaurant or gift and they don’t react the way we hoped they would.

In ALL cases, we approach the idea from OUR point of view rather than from that of our intended audience.

I know, it’s that Golden Rule thing:  Do unto others and YOU would have done unto YOU.  Unfortunately, most people don’t really care what YOU want done unto you, they simply want what they want done unto THEM.

If that’s the case, maybe we should approach anything new with a little market research or at a minimum, careful observation.  And innovation, while very cool, is a risky business.  The world might not be ready for what you have right now.

It takes patience and lots of careful research.

So this week, before you unleash your new idea on the world or even your relationship, ask the following questions:

  1. Is there a need for this right now?
  1. Is there a need for this EVER?
  1. Do I think it’s a great idea without even testing it?
  1. What will I do if the idea is rejected?

I don’t intend to discourage you.  Just wanting you to maximize success!

Why Simple is Often Better

I have a love/hate relationship with McDonalds.  On one hand I love the fact that I can stop off on any long car trip in the morning and get a decent (albeit unhealthy) breakfast with pretty good coffee.  But as an organization, I hate that they can’t seem to embrace what they really are:  cheap, unhealthy comfort food.  Their latest gimmick is artisan sandwiches that are supposed to help them compete with Panera (sort of like a Smart Car competing with a Chevy Tahoe in the heavy hauling vehicle category).  Nothing new here.  In the past we’ve seen offerings with salads, all-day breakfast, fancy coffee, and wraps.

But in olden days, McDonalds owned what they were.  I found a photo of an old menu.  Take a look:

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First of all, the pricing dates this.  But notice the simplicity.  And, since it’s so simple, the menu can add helpful descriptors that make me want to purchase.  Yeah I know McDonalds makes money hand over fist but I wonder if they stuck to simple then maybe their operations costs would lower enough to match today’s profits.  Sometimes simple is just better.

 

Which brings us to my lesson today.  Sometimes simple plans with clear communications give us a great chance for success.  Military planners, known for their complex plans that don’t translate well into an actual battle made this mistake in the ill-fated Operation Eagle Claw hostage rescue attempt back in 1980.  The complexity and overplanning of this operation resulted in multiple aircraft lost and eight servicemen killed…all without ever confronting the Iranians.  Simple, yet not simplistic strategies with significant training to run that simple plan might have led to success.

 

So what about you.  What about your business?  Is the presentation you’re planning to make full of jargon, complicated figures, and wordiness that’s sure to put an audience to sleep?  Is your customer acquisition strategies so complex that it requires the lining up of the planets to make it work?

It may seem counterintuitive, but I’m convinced making your plans, presentations, strategies, and initiatives simple and uncomplicated eliminates confusion and results in a better chance for long term success.  Maybe McDonalds should ditch trying to be cool and trendy and on a par with Panera and Chipotle and go back to what they really are.  Cheap, unhealthy comfort food.  I might even become a raving fan then.

What do you think?

Are You Aware of Your Bias?

Unconscious BiasAre you biased?  If you say no, you’re just not human.  If you’re reading this, trust me, you’re human.

Recently I put together a short seminar on dealing with unconscious bias.  In researching the topic, I found some interesting information.

First, we are all biased.  It simply means we tend to sort out information and give preference to one piece of data to solve a particular problem.  Also, we as human beings sort out data as we see it.  For example, when we enter a room, the first thing we do is scan up and down and side to side.  Then we notice people.  The first thing we notice is their skin color followed quickly by their gender.  Up to this point, there are no problems.

Unfortunately, when it comes to that sorting and bias, if we’re not careful we can start giving preference unfairly when we’re not aware of our thinking process.  That’s where the conscious bias (what we’re aware of) can be influenced by our unconscious bias (what’s inside us and often has free run of our brains without ever being questioned).

My first wife hated fish.  She had the privilege of visiting some amazing places like Hawaii and Australia and had access to some of the best fish on the planet.  As long as I knew her, I never saw her take a bite of fish, and yet she always told me how much she hated fish.  Our daughter grew up hating fish.  She never took a bite of fish (as far as I could remember).  When she was in her early 20’s, she moved in with us for a couple of years.  I convinced her to try fish.  She loved it.  Her fiancé (and now husband) cooked lots of fish and she ate it.  She even ate calamari, not just the cylinder-shaped ones but the ones with all the tentacles.  An unconscious bias against fish (from her mom) led to a conscious one (from her) until it was challenged and overcome (by me and Chris).

But enough about fish.  Could a host of early experiences be lurking in our subconscious and affect our decision-making?  Absolutely.  Here’s how it works:

Think about your most trusted circle of advisors.  Don’t count family members in this group.  These folks are the ones you can rely on, can relate to, and can be counted upon to never let you down.  Do you have your list?

Now take a good look at them.  I’m willing to bet that most, if not all of them look like you (gender/race/age), think like you (political leaning/religious affiliation), and act like you (sexual orientation/marital status).  If that’s your trusted inner circle, you might be tempted to use them as your yardstick when measuring others.  If they “fit” you, then you trust them, if not, then you discount.  You do this unconsciously.  It’s normal.  Just pay attention to it.

It becomes a problem then when we select only those people or people like them for special projects, promotions, or favors.  We discount those we don’t know and don’t even give them a chance because on the surface we can’t really trust them.

Many years ago, a dentist that I assisted looked past the obvious (an enlisted kid with no motivation) and took the time to push me to attend college and dream bigger.  It’s the reason I have the career I do today.  The dentists I worked for before him and after him saw just the surface and treated me like crap. Had I never met Greg Nelson, I would not be successful today. Don’t let an unconscious bias derail the potential in others around you.

Bias is normal.  It’s the lack of reflection and honesty that makes it dangerous.  This week, make it a point to expand your circle of trust and begin to draw from the wealth and wisdom of others you may have previously ignored.  Everyone wins if that happens!

Why Being FIRST Sometimes Makes You Best

copyHollywood seems to be in full-bore reboot and sequel mode.  Where Summer and Thanksgiving used to be the launch of the big blockbusters, now they seem to be nothing more than a couple of new ideas but many more sequels and more recently, the reboot – a remake of a remake…of sometimes another remake.

Up until just about 10 years ago, there was the Batman movies which built on the original TV series from the 1960s with Adam West (with several different actors) and the Superman movies (with Christopher Reeve).  Then came The Hulk and Spiderman.  Then nothing.  Then of course came the multiple other superhero movies and then the phenomena of multiple Hulk movies (reboots) and to date, two more Spiderman reboots, another Batman reboot, and then of course Batman vs. Superman.

It’s not just superheroes.  Since the original Jaws movie in 1975, there have been four sequels and several other killer (really insane killer) sharks in movies.  Just when you think it’s safe to go back into the water…

What does this all have to do with you?  Well, how original are you?  How groundbreaking are your ideas?

There is a risk with being first and with being original.  You could of course be wildly successful.  That’s what happened with the original Jaws movie.  Even though the shark looked fake, the terror kept people in real life off the beach.  Sequels tried to recapture that same magic but aside from more realistic sharks and bloodier human feedings, they just didn’t have the same effect.  There was always a comparison to the original.

On the other hand, you might fail.  It’s possible.  But here’s the thing.  Even if it failed, you were the first to try.  Even if someone builds and perfects your idea, they still keep YOU in the conversation.  Someone else is trying to improve what YOU started.  YOU started.  You’re still memorable.

Hollywood seems to have lost its creativity.  And the more it happens, the more we think about and miss Adam West, Christopher Reeve, and the robotic fake shark Bruce.  The more you copy the original, the more the original shines.

What new idea have you been thinking about proposing?  What new direction have you been contemplating in your current career path?  Instead of waiting for affirmation from what’s already been tried, why not be the pioneer that will be remembered for no other reason maybe than it was simply the first…

 

 

Unleash Your Inner Ninja Warrior

ninjatrainingThe other night while flipping channels on the TV, I happened to come across the American Ninja Warrior TV show. If you’ve not seen it before it involves some very physically fit individuals who run on a timed obstacle course. The course requires balance, stamina, and most of all upper body strength. I was amazed at watching some of these people and then even a 65-year-old who managed to finish several of the obstacles before falling off and losing his dentures in the water. I thought about what it would be like to be on this program but at my age and with my hip replacements and bad back, just bending over to tie my shoe is enough of a warrior challenge.

For all of us who are not athletes, I believe there still are some Ninja challenges we can do when it comes to our professional development.  It’s easy to admire of those in our field who are committed to excellence, who managed to give great presentations, do amazing analytical work, or solve complicated problems. The good news is that all of us have the potential to be in that class. It simply involves your commitment to personal and professional development.

I don’t know what these Ninja athletes do but I can imagine it involves several types of training, many of which are not directly related to the obstacles they must overcome in the challenge. What that means is that not only do they need to know how to climb on parallel bars, they need to develop the upper body strength and the hand strength to hold their grip. It doesn’t always involve just cardio as we might think about it via long distance running, it might be short interval sprints. This means that transferable physical strength and agility must be made to be the focus competitive strength and agility.  In other words, you have to train for more than just the actual competition.

We need to do the same in our professional lives too. While we might be really good at our jobs, there are some ancillary skills we might not be good at. I must admit I’m pretty good at what I do in organizational and management development consulting, but where I come up very short as in sales. That may not seem like a logical business skill for me to have but if I can’t sell what I do then I won’t be able to do it. With that in mind I’ve spent much of the last year and a half reading and studying everything I can get my hands on about sales. That is an additional skill that will help me be more successful.

But what about you? Right now are there other skills that would help you be more successful? You might be good at making a presentation but how are you and navigating the politics of your organization? You might be great at solving a complicated problem but how good are you at actually preventing that problem in the first place? All of us have a responsibility to be the best in our field. Since only a few of us can be an elite athlete, why not be excellent in the everyday playing field that is our professional lives?

 

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Child wearing grown up hospital scrubs, glasses and a stethoscopeWhen I was a kid, I told my parents I wanted to be the guy at the garbage dump that pointed you where to park and unload.

I’m not sure how they felt about that at the time.  After all, most kids my age wanted to be doctors or athletes or something significant.  The guy at the dump probably made minimum wage which, back in 1972 was probably miniscule.

For me, the job looked like a lot of fun.  I love digging through trash looking for treasure.  But what I really thought was cool was the stick he carried and used to direct traffic.  Of course my dream career never happened.

Recently I was contracted to teach a workshop on career development.  One question I always ask in the introductions is what each attendee wanted to be when they grew up.  The client was uncomfortable with that question so I was forced to explain.  The explanation is useful for all of us.

As adults, we are bound by a sense of duty, responsibility, and conformance.  For most of us, we have constraints around us that require us to follow the path in life that is usually chosen for us.  In a sense, our destiny is chosen for us.  We rarely choose.

But that isn’t often the case when we’re kids.  Which is why we look at careers that don’t often make sense financially or are even achievable.  The key though is to identify, with our adult eyes and minds, what drew us to that career choice all those years ago.

For me, it was being able to hunt for treasure and tell people what to do.  The treasure part might make a good hobby now, but the need for power has never gone away.  For the first eight years of my Navy career, I was not in a supervisory role.  I was told what to do and how to do it.  That wasn’t a good fit.  Even from year nine to 15, I still had people above me dictating how to supervise.  When I got out and went to work at my first few jobs, that problem was still there, even though by then I had two college degrees.  So in 2004 I quit bosses altogether and started out my own.  In retrospect, it’s probably the need for power that’s driving me.

But that’s me.  What about you?  What were your aspirations as a child?  Can you now, with the benefit of time, see what your motivators were?  If so, do they still exist today, maybe hidden and yet still impacting you?  If you had the need for power back then do you still have that sense of rebellion?  If it was to be seen as the smartest kid in the world, do you find yourself frustrated when someone challenges your judgement?

Career happiness is a right, but a right that needs to be earned.  The earning starts when you identify those underlying motives.  This week, revisit that inner 7-year-old you still carry around.  Are you living the life you wanted back then?  If not, why not take some steps to find it?

Peak Early…AND Often!

 

success bikeI believe all of us have potential for greatness.  In some way, shape, or form.  Not all the same either.  That’s not some motivational Tony Robbins fire-walking fluff either.  I just think it’s true.

Some don’t live up to their full potential.  It may be because of a lack of resources or encouragement or time or opportunity.  My dad was in this category.  He was full of great ideas but could never seem to pull the trigger on any of them.  I wish I could have met him at my current age, when he was 30.  He could have been the 1970s equivalent of Elon Musk.

Others reach their potential early but never seem to surpass or repeat it.

During my daughter’s senior year in high school, she was surprised to see some of the most popular seniors from the previous year come back to high school during their college spring break and actually sit in some classes!  One individual, a popular guy in his senior year but now a freshman at a prestigious college on the West Coast, asked one of my daughter’s classmates to ask HIM to the prom.  And she did.  And he went to the prom.  Again.

You probably know someone who fits into one or both categories.  I’m sure you don’t want to end up in either one.  How do you maintain peak performance so that we achieve success AND don’t have to always bring up our greatest hits from the past?  Here are five suggestions.

  1. Define Success.  It’s different for everyone but only you know what it is for you.  Think beyond wealth and status.  Make sure it’s tangible and achievable.  If you see success as being a brain surgeon but you faint at the site of blood and your hands shake when you get nervous, keep looking.
  2. Develop a Path to Success with Measurable Milestones.  Think of it as climbing a mountain using a series of diagonal switchbacks.  Your progress may be slow but if it’s heading upwards, you’re on the right path.
  3. Make Good Choices.  If you’re on the path to success, make sure whatever choices you make elevate you upward, not laterally or down.  Don’t let money or an unrelated success take you off the path to get the success you really want.
  4. Keep a Visual Record of Your Journey.  The reason fundraisers use the big thermometer to show donations is to have a visual to encourage people to help out.  You need a visual to remind yourself each day that you have a plan, and work to do to achieve it.
  5. After Achieving Success, Keep Going.  If you accomplish wins, you should now know the formula.  Why stop there?  Don’t be the 19-year-old who comes back to the prom to relive old glory.

All of us have a finite amount of time on this planet.  Why not use every last bit of it to achieve continual success?  It’s your choice.

I guess it comes down to a simple choice really.  Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’

– Andy Dufresne.  The Shawshank Redemption

 

 

 

 

Stop Taking “NO” for an Answer

Businessman holding paperMany years ago, while in the Navy stationed overseas, I remember what it was like any time you needed paperwork approved by our personnel support detachment (PSD), the equivalent of the HR department.  PSD was managed by a guy named John Clark.  No matter what you asked for, the answer was always a resounding “NO” without any explanation.  It might be because he outranked most of us, or maybe he was just a crotchety old-timer, but dealing with him and PSD was the nearest equivalent to going to the DMV.  I never forgot that.

Fast forward to today.  I do some work with a local company that complains incessantly they can’t seem to get into a nearby large organization in order to market to them.  It seems was an incident a few years ago and this company was banned from entering the premises to do business.  Unfortunate since the employees of this large organization are the perfect target audience for my client.  Nobody can tell me exactly what happened or where this ban notice is written, but they are all paralyzed by it.

Last week I attended a networking meeting and lo and behold I ran into the person from this large organization and I flat-out asked her what the deal was.  She told me it was a federal regulation that stated one part of my client’s services were not able to be promoted, but there was no official ban and they even looked forward to having this client get involved.  The regulation made sense to me and of course this is good news for the client.  If only they had simply asked after being told “NO” they could have been active and successful with this organization.

Our inability to move past “NO” is probably grounded in childhood.  We are all born naturally curious.  We ask lots of questions.  Finally, our exasperated parents tell us to quit asking questions.  Most of us stopped being curious then, but those who persisted began to encounter “NO” on a regular basis.  This culled the curious herd even more.  Now, just a few of us are left as adults to keep pushing when they hear “NO”.

It can be problematic to push past “NO” and it got me into a lot of trouble in the Navy and even in my first two jobs when I got out.  Today though, it’s the secret to getting business that others won’t ever get close to.  What’s the secret to pushing past “NO” without getting into trouble?

  1. Don’t push it when the “NO” is a safety issue. (i.e. “No Swimming in the Lagoon after Dusk Due to Alligators”)
  2. Don’t push it when addressing company policy that has a purpose.  (i.e. “Who are you to tell me I can’t wear jeans on Friday?” when working for a bank or financial institution)
  3. Don’t push it just to be a pain in the A**. (i.e. “This policy makes no sense.  I don’t care about it but I just feel like being an A**H*** today” – this was my first LPO in the Navy)

BUT, when the “NO” you consistently hear is preventing you from career or business success and you can’t get a clear answer as to why, then feel free to push back a little.

None of us wants to hear that we’re being held back by something that has no business doing it to us.  Pick your battles carefully and work diligently in the pursuit of “NO”.

Worst Things First

fish headsHave you ever had one of those days where you knew you had an unpleasant task to take care of but didn’t want to do it?  It may have been a call to return with an unhappy client.  Maybe an uncomfortable conversation with an employee.  Perhaps it was a sales call that you were terrified of.

If you’re like me (or most people for that matter) you probably lost sleep the night before and once at work, began to barricade your time with busywork that would occupy every corner of the day and prevent you from the task.  If you did this correctly, you could honestly say that you would have made that call or had that conversation but were slammed with crisis after crisis.  That bought you some peace, until you came home and realized that unpleasant item would now be waiting for you the next morning…only now the situation would be even more difficult to deal with.

Pain avoidance is normal.  Most of us hate pain and our nature is to do anything to never have it.  Sadly, avoiding just won’t work in most cases.  I’ve learned over time that the best way to deal with it is to use a variation of one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for guidance.

In 1989, Stephen Covey authored one of the most popular business books of all time,

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  In this book, he detailed principles for personal and professional success.  One of them, First Things First, was clear guidance for priority and time management.   I modified that one into:

Worst Things First

Like ripping off a Band-Aid, eating your Brussels sprouts first, or doing things like making the scary call or having that dreaded conversation, getting stuff out of the way is the best way to power through.  The longer an uncomfortable task is avoided, the harder it will be to recover from it.

Years ago, when stationed overseas at NAVCOMMSTA Harold E. Holt in Western Australia I befriended a group of SEABEES, the Navy construction folks that ran the public works department on base.  Their division officer was universally hated by the group and after enduring him for two years, they came up with a fitting farewell gift.  The night before his car was crated to be sent on the two-month journey back to the States, they stuffed a bag of fish heads under the front seat.  Imagine what that would have smelled like when he retrieved it?

That’s what happens the longer one of your uncomfortable goes unaddressed.  Fish heads are nasty, but it’s better to handle them on Day 1 then on Day 60.

This week, think about those “fish head” tasks you’ve been avoiding.  Why not get busy doing the Worst Things First and free up your time, energy, and emotional health?

 

 

 

Follow the Leader

s-l300Leadership is a big word in corporate-speak today.  It brings up images of company culture and vision with a little mindfulness tossed in to be trendy.  That’s not what I’m talking about.

There are two kinds of people in this world:  Leaders and Followers.  Which one are you?  Which is the right one?  I don’t have any clear answers except that each has risk and rewards.

This morning (and it seems nearly every Monday or Tuesday morning) I boarded a Southwest Airlines flight to my usual destination typically through Baltimore, MD.  Southwest boards through a structured letter and number system, beginning with those passengers holding an “A” position, followed by “B” and “C” and with numbered positions in between.  Usually the boarding time is printed on your boarding pass and this morning it kicked off at 0530.  About 0520 I decided to take my position at A-23.  I was the first one.  It took exactly 8 seconds for other people to pop up out of their seats and take their places in line.  No official announcement was made.  People just followed the leader.

Now there’s nothing philosophical about this although certainly there is some psychology involved.  It’s really not all that significant but since I had nothing else to write about this week and I notice this all the time, I thought it would be good to talk about.  Being a Leader has the following rewards:

  1. You Automatically Stand Out.  Some people don’t mind this.  Most people prefer to blend in.  Whether you are right or wrong, you make a stand when you take the lead.  If nobody follows, you look a little naked.  If everyone jumps in, you look like, well, a leader.
  2. You Set the Pace and the Trend.  There is a benefit to this.  You can be the first to start a new movement.  You can coin a new term.  You can define a new path and chart a new course.  There is no wrong way for you if you define the way.
  3. You Become Synonymous with the Way.  If you’re first, you become recognized as the standard.  We “Google” things, not search for them.  We drink a “Coke” not a cola.  We sit in the “Jacuzzi” not the hot tub.

Being the Leader also has risks:

  1. You Automatically Stand Out.  Once you’re out there, there’s no turning back.  If you jump up to be first just realize you’ll get the blame if things turn out poorly.
  2. You Set the Pace and the Trend.  Innovation has a high probability of failure.  Your great idea might start off with a great deal of promise (Blackberry® or QR Codes) but quickly become the face of dated futility.
  3. You Become Synonymous with the Way.  Decades ago, Earl Scheib developed an innovative system of painting automobiles in branded shops.  It was revolutionary.  Unfortunately, Earl Scheib’s quality was notoriously low.  As a kid, I remember going with my dad to pick up his newly-painted truck and seeing overspray on the tires and several drip marks.  He made Earl Scheib a verb in his lexicon (“don’t do an Earl Scheib job when you rake these leaves”).

Every day brings opportunities to lead and to follow.  You’ll have ample opportunities to do both.  Don’t be taken in and influenced by the label though.  Make good choices and learn to balance the two.  It’s a quick path to wisdom, which may be more valuable in the long run than being seen as a leader.