Brainfreeze Thawed

Sometimes when I sit down to write…nothing good happens. Such was the result when I initially sat down to write this missive.

Nothing good takes many forms. Sometimes it’s a blank screen that stays blank no matter how long I stare at it. Other times a few words or paragraphs appear but they are, to be brutally honest with myself, crap. Worst of all, nothing good means I get frustrated and aggravated.

Seeking to break free of the bad state I was stuck in, I engaged in my favorite mind-clearing activity, walking around outside and letting my thoughts run free. It worked nicely. Relaxed me, drained the frustration, gave me uninterrupted time to think about some client issues…and about what I wanted to write.

I found myself thinking about creativity, particularly about the way it appears and disappears, often unwilling to do your bidding on command.

As it happened to me so it happens to everyone from time to time. And the usual response when good ideas aren’t coming quickly to mind is frustration and aggravation.

The result? The more you berate yourself and push yourself to come up with a good idea, the more likely you are to end up empty handed.

Really good ideas require a stress-free mind which allows thoughts to flow and to connect in new ways. The more you push yourself to think creatively, the more constricted, and uncreative your thinking becomes. Your mind gets stuck in ossified patterns and is unable to break through to new territory.

At first, it might seem like you’re wasting time, goofing off when you pop up from the computer and go off to do whatever it is that clears your mind. In my case, it’s taking a brisk walk.

In your case it depends on your situation. If you have the freedom I have, go off and take some time to do something you love to do. If you work in an office, consider taking a short trip to the coffee machine and engage in some light banter with co-workers along the way. Or start working on something completely different that excites you greatly. The key is to allow your thoughts to roam freely, to stop fixating on the issue you were trying to solve.

As I write this, it’s Friday afternoon. I spent this morning with a CEO client and his CFO. They’re facing a major company issue that has required them to quickly change some ways they operate as they go through a rapid expansion.

While some things are moving along well, other things are proving more difficult to figure out. As I listened to their discussion about solutions for these more intractable issues, I realized they were caught in a loop, saying more or less the same things over and over. This kind of repetition doesn’t lead to creative solutions, it leads to brainfreeze…

When I was alone with the CEO after he and the CFO finally agreed on next steps to address immediate issues while tabling other issues where agreement was lacking, I got him talking about his favorite thing. He loves to go off on weekends with his family, put the business out of his mind, and laze around on his boat.

As he talked about leaving for the lake at the end of the day, his face lit up. His body relaxed, he spoke more softly, and he came up with a few possible solutions for issues that moments before seemed unsolvable. Just thinking about the relaxing weekend to come got his creative juices flowing.

Who knows what he’ll tell me when he returns, what he’ll think of while drifting along in the waves as they flow across the water. What I’m sure of is that his creativity will flow along with the waves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Death By Upgrade

Every time I hear “upgrade” or “update” attached to anything I like…I shudder. All too often it means I will receive poorer service, I will no longer have access to the features I like, and I’ll have to spend time and money to fix problems it’s caused.

I saw one of the dreaded words recently when I received an email from American Airlines with the scary subject line, “We’re making changes to the AAdvantage program.” Reading on I discovered a link to “AAdvantage program updates.”

I now have pages and pages and pages of complex and often incomprehensible information on the wonderful things they’re doing to upgrade their frequent flyer program…all designed to make my experience better!

I am dubious, to say the least, about this claim.

I have nothing against new ideas, new products, making things better…I love my iPhone Gargantuan…but I do have problems with the seeming insatiable need of companies to continually tinker with things that are already working quite well.  Companies are always finding solutions for things that aren’t problems. As a result, they’re making their customers’ lives miserable…including mine.

Change for change’s sake is a bad idea.

And using glowing terms when sharing your unnecessary and even detrimental changes with your customers is irritating and insulting.

Irritating and insulting your customers is also a bad idea.

I am at the highest level of American Airline’s frequent flyer program: Executive Platinum. Have been for some years. I’m a body aching million miler. Apparently after showering me with gratitude over the years because they value me, American has decided they really don’t like me all that much.

How do I know? Because once I weeded through the reams of information about their “improvements” I saw that they changed the program in such a way that it discounts how much you fly in favor of how much you spend. It’s those who purchase the most expensive tickets who are now valued.

I can imagine the meeting during which they decided to try and dupe all of us getting the raw end of the deal…which is most of us. “They’re really not all that bright so we’ll tell them what we’re doing is wonderful and a huge improvement. Let’s fill up pages with information that no one can understand and throw in obscure airline codes to really confuse them. We’ll hide the things we’re taking away in little type at the end—no one ever reads that.”

When it comes to making changes in your product or service, honesty and openness is the best policy. Explain fully and clearly what it is you’re doing and treat us like intelligent people who can understand why you have to do something that we’d rather you didn’t do. Is it a change you’re making simply because it’s likely to lead to the highest profits for your shareholders and big raises for senior management? Or, is it a genuine fix that addresses a real problem and improves the customer experience?

The latter is an UPGRADE, the former is not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Overcoming Overcoming Objections

“Overcome all Objections”. “5 Tips for Slaying Every Objection” “ Overcoming Common Sales Objections: Don’t Take No For An Answer” “How To Overcome 18 Buyer Objections” “Overcoming Sales Objections The Easy Way” And my favorite, “The Secret to Overcoming Objections” (interesting concept that something they’re blabbing about all over the Internet is a “secret”.)

These and many other similarly titled books,blog posts, articles, webcasts, and real live seminars seem to be everywhere. Apparently there is a huge number of people who really don’t want to buy things from those selling them and an equally large number of people trying to make some money off those looking for ideas on how to force recalcitrant buyers to open their wallets.

I’m confused by this. Every time I see one of these attempts to teach people how to convince someone to buy something they don’t seem to want, I wonder why the sellers aren’t finding prospects who actually might be interested in what they’re selling. And why the sellers are doing such a poor job of explaining how their product or service will bring value much higher than its cost. And fill a prospect’s unfulfilled need.

I look up the concept of “Sales Objections” to see if I’m missing something. “Sales objections are defined as statements or questions raised by a prospect that indicate an unwillingness to buy.” That seems pretty clear. The prospect isn’t interested in what you have to sell.

The definition continues: “The objections include objections to price, product, the company, time, or competition.” Just what I thought. The prospect thinks you’re ripping them off, have a lousy product, doesn’t like your company, is so uninterested that they won’t spare you the time to listen, and thinks your competition is way better than you are. So I was correct in my thinking. But why the objections in the first place? Are the prospects correct in their thinking?

Perhaps your prospects aren’t really prospects or you’re awful at presenting yourself, your company, your product or service…or all three. Perhaps you haven’t articulated well how you’ll solve your prospect’s problem or fill their need.

The need to overcome objections is a result of your failure to thoroughly know and understand your prospect and their needs, leading to a lack of knowledge about how to communicate effectively with them. Or you’re totally off target and going after people who really aren’t prospects.

And now you’re going to try to con them into buying something in a way that will leave a bad taste in their mouth.

Think back to when you were on the receiving end of someone overcoming your objections. How did it make you feel? Warm and fuzzy or backed up to a wall with a knife at your throat?

There is a way to connect with people and wind up with sales while avoiding entirely that “objection” stage. You won’t need a bag of tricks to close the deal.

Put yourself in their shoes, understand their issues and concerns, show the benefit to them of whatever you’re pitching, but mostly be real and without guile. Understand the pain you can abate or the help that you can bring.

If you don’t connect with them, move on. Find your ideal customers and play in that sandbox. Decide to live in a world where all deals are win/win. A world where both sides walk away feeling that a positive transaction occurred, one that will lead to good things for everyone involved.

And if you find yourself looking for articles on overcoming objections, perhaps a new job should be in your future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Toxic Destruction: A Thriller

He entered the hotel late one evening and found me in the lobby with some team members discussing a project he and I were overseeing. He flew into a rage. Right there in the lobby he launched an extended verbal attack on me about some things I had allowed our team to do. It was not a pretty sight.

It was the latest episode in a rocky relationship between him—the relationship leader for his company—and the company I represented. The problems had been going on for some years before I got involved.

Others had tried to deal with this character in the past, to no avail. I was brought in to be “the fixer”. Aware of his reputation, I did my best to turn down the job, but when I was told I was the last resort I finally agreed to step in.

Several months in, on a regular basis I was rethinking my decision.

He was arrogant and abusive, a bully in all ways. What set him off in the lobby? I had allowed the team to operate in a way that unbeknownst to me was at odds with what he had planned.

Abuse of those with less power, those you are supposed to lead and train for their future success, those for whom you should set an example, those whose future is dependent on not fighting back…is completely unacceptable.

So I became the terminator, beginning the process that ended the relationship between the companies.

Curtain closed. Relief all around. I received quite a few expressions of gratitude for finally solving this problem.

Why do we tolerate people in our organizations that are so toxic they’ve become infamous, people that no one wants to work with or for? The fear they engender leads to people shutting down, keeping their creative and useful thoughts, ideas and solutions to themselves. People wonder how it is that the senior executives allow such destructive bullies  to remain and so respect for the leaders diminishes and the organization’s culture deteriorates. Results suffer.

When I ask organizations why their bully is being tolerated, what I hear is how valuable he is. He has good connections, he knows a lot, he’s made us money, he gets things done. What no one considers is the damage he does and how much more successful the business could be with an inspiring leader bringing out the best in their people.

The bully in this story and his company are now just a memory. There wasn’t a single complaint about ending the relationship…

And since ending the relationship, the company I represented has reached out to other companies they work with that they know well and like. The inquiries are being met with enthusiasm about the opportunity to partner more often.

Some of these companies knew about the problems with the bully and remarked that they were not at all surprised that we ended the relationship and wondered why it took so long to happen. Clearly, the prolonged involvement with him showed the company in a poor light.

Take a look around your organization. Are there toxic people among you who’ve been harming everyone else , hurting your results, and ruining your reputation? How long are you going to let it go on?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Artistic Solution

David Fitzgerald, a long time reader and occasional commenter of this blog, sent me a story.

He was sitting in Tampa Airport waiting to board his flight. He observed a fellow traveler, a 2-3-year-old girl, playing nearby in the way restless children tend to play: energetically, loudly, and oblivious to her impact on others.

The grandmother who was minding her was not so sanguine about her granddaughter’s behavior. It led her to continuously admonish, “Don’t do that.” To no avail.

The happy toddler kept up her wild play.

Mom returned and the volume and number of orders to the child to not do what she was doing increased. To no avail.

David got tired of watching this multi-generational drama play out so he decided to use his secret weapon to make everyone happy. He reached into his bag and pulled out a box of crayons and a pad of paper.

Problem solved. The child eagerly channeled her enthusiasm into coloring. Mother and grandmother and surrounding passengers relaxed and smiled.

David, a neurologist, always carries crayons. In addition to calming young travelers they are the perfect tool for distracting children while he consults with their parents.

It’s a nice story about a simple but creative solution to a situation all frequent flyers, and many other people, regularly face: a rambunctious child. Be irritated, roll your eyes, complain, admonish…or find a creative solution that leaves everyone happy.

Think about problems you face on a regular basis. How often do you react to them by complaining, feeling sorry for yourself, even telling yourself and others “don’t do that”? You waste your breath and don’t resolve anything. The problem remains.

The next time an irritating situation arises, before opening your mouth, think about how to reframe the issue in a way that leads you to a positive solution, one that leaves everyone better off. Become part of the solution rather than someone who enlarges the problem.

Bring out the crayons.

Create an artist.

 

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Financial Success…Incidentally

I had an epiphany early this morning! There I was at 5:45, sitting by myself at the Wharton School waiting for everyone to arrive so we could finalize the Global Consulting Practicum projects in time for the upcoming presentations. Clients from around the world would soon arrive expecting exceptional strategic marketing recommendations.

You read that correctly, 5:45, and that was after a 45 -minute drive into the city from my home. It’s a nice time of day…I beat all the traffic, it’s quiet and peaceful, and I find I do some of my best thinking before the world intervenes.

I was reading the book Obliquity by the economist John Kay, and came upon these words from Sir James Black, the Nobel Prize winning pharmacologist behind the discovery of beta-blockers and antiulcerants. “Goals are often best achieved without intending them.”

Goals are often best achieved without intending them. At first this seemed silly to me. Goals are the driving force behind achievement. Or are they? What is it exactly that leads people and organizations to be successful?

I spent several hours reading and thinking about Kay’s ideas on the winding path that indirectly, rather than directly, leads to achieving our goals. I read stories of companies that unintentionally found financial success as well as Kay’s insights into how our lack of control over so much that happens around us and to us requires a flexible approach if we are to reach our goals.

A flexible path guided by a deep desire that drives us forward. In the case of Sir Black, he was motivated by chemistry, and a passion and desire to discover new things through his research. As he worked and explored, he was unconcerned about financial results. Yet his research yielded the unintended result of huge profits for several global pharmaceutical companies.

Suddenly Kay’s ideas took over my thinking. I realized many who share their vision of building successful businesses say nothing about money. They build success by focusing on doing what they love to do, by doing what excites and energizes them. They detour past obstacles, adjust to changing conditions, and backtrack and find a different path when they get stuck.

Their fire burns so brightly that it attracts like-minded people who share their passion, vision, and core values. This enables them to build an organization completely aligned and driven to achieve the same goals, no matter how much meandering is required to achieve them. And when success arrives it comes with a nice additional result…a profitable company.

One of Kay’s chapters is titled “The Profit –Seeking Paradox – How the Most Profitable Companies Are Not the Most Profit Oriented.” And that sums it up.

After several hours the team members began to appear. With my mind whirling at the ideas Kay’s book generated I rose to greet them. Little did they know that while reviewing the decks and massaging the recommendations, I’d be watching for obliquity and ways to incorporate it into the teams’ thinking and work.

 

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Agnotology

Among other things, I’m a political junkie, a consultant to business leaders and their leadership teams, a regular global business traveler, and an all-around curious person. These roles and this personality trait have led me to also be an agnotologist.   “A what?”, you ask. Read on.

Think of knowledge as a tropical island surrounded by a great sea of ignorance. The island becomes more lush as it expands in random and unpredictable fits and starts, pushing away parts of the ignorant sea, and replacing it with solid ground and vibrant growth.  Most people live quite comfortably on the island, often as far from the shoreline as possible.

Others though, others are drawn to the shore. They thrive on ambiguity and a desire to know what lies beyond, hidden in the depths of the water. Their curiosity knows no bounds so they’re driven to know more, to overcome ignorance, to expand the island.

Then there are those who desire to shrink the island, to block access to new knowledge, to deny and obfuscate any facts or research which would prevent their blissful bopping around unfettered by any challenges or uncertainty. (Hello climate change deniers.)

Agnotology: the study of cultural or deliberate spreading of ignorance.

As your agnotologist, I have some advice for you to consider…

When things go well many business leaders rush for the center of the island, a place where they can remain cocooned in their accomplishments and free of uncertainty.   Creative thinking and innovation are stunted or disappear entirely. While they bask in success their curious competitors race past them to the shoreline, ever eager to explore the unknown, to find solutions to new problems, to turn ignorance to knowledge.

Too many are happy to only know what they know, to continuously feed off the tried and true, to close their minds to new ideas. They are unwilling to challenge themselves to learn about people or situations or subjects that are not part of their comfortable everyday lives. They fear the disruption that new knowledge will bring.

However it comes about, whether through an unconscious closing of your mind to new knowledge, suppression, inattention, or willful action to obfuscate, the result is the same. We know less than we could and should and we pay the price for this ignorance. We constrain our lives, our companies fall behind instead of thriving, the entire world suffers as the water rises.

Even if you’re considered an Expert or Guru by yourself or others, there’s always more for you to learn. Leave the comfort of your island, break through your fear of the unknown, push back the deep waters of ignorance.

 

 

 

 

 

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Anticipating the Biscuit

 

Wayne Gretsky, the great hockey player, credited his success to this particular strategy: “I skate to where the puck will be, not where it has been.”

The NHL playoffs are now underway and while I mostly ignore the world of sports, ice hockey is one game I understand and enjoy watching because I used to play it.

What I like about hockey is the amazing ability of a player to send a small, hard, round cylinder soaring through a mass of opposing players at a high rate of speed to the exact place at the exact time that their teammate will be waiting for it. What I like even more, is the amazing ability of that teammate to anticipate where that puck will end up, often without even watching its flight, and to be there to receive it. All while maneuvering on skates at a breakneck pace in order to stay out of the clutches of the competition.

It’s an exceptional example of teamwork, skill, knowledge, instinct, trust and the  ability to predict the future and visualize one’s place in it…

Sounds like what it takes to be the successful leader of a profitable company. Particularly the part about predicting the future and visualizing where you will be. Successful business leaders and successful hockey players both have their eyes on a goal… and they do everything they can to energize and motivate themselves and every member of their team to reach it and to win.

Being fixated on a goal and doing what it takes to get there in business as in hockey requires risk taking and being willing to accept that not everything goes according to the strategy in place. The route can be bruising and yes, a fight may break out from time to time. But as long as the goal and the vision to reach that goal stays clear, a new route can be planned, the puck can go to a teammate, new resources brought in to help.

My local hockey team, the Philadelphia Flyers, are known for their fighting spirit. This year, they barely made it into the playoffs. And now they’ve made a rapid exit. But there’s always next year…With the right team in place, with all eyes of management, staff, and players fixated on that goal and anticipating what is to come, winning is in sight.

 

 

 

 

 

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