Looking For Connections

Sharing is good

In just about any social situation that we enter, we look for connections to others.  It’s a bit like a game of ‘where do I know you from’, but truly it’s a search for shared context.

Connections make you feel like you belong to the same club and that’s really what we long for, to belong.  To make a deeper connection, by seeing if one already exists.

Situations are important

It might just be that you begin the conversation based on the fact that you are both sharing this moment of time and place.  Shared moments provide you with enough of a connection to get the ball rolling and eventually you discover other points of connection; another time, another place, another person.  This matters.

Ask and Listen

You know what it’s like to be with someone who seems less than generous socially.  The person who continues to talk about what they do for work or tells you stories about something exciting they have going on in their life all without ever really asking about you, your interests, or what you have going on.

It’s not that we’re selfish or need to get our words in, but it’s a conversation and we know when it feels unbalanced.  It’s good to remember that ourselves.

What we look for, the questions we ask in order to make connections, are simple and you know them.

“Where are you from?”

“How do you know ______?”

“What do you do for work?”

This is a simple example of using a shared moment in time or discovering what else you might share.

Intention Is Everything

The intention in finding these connections, has to be about building a relationship and discovering if you can be helpful to them in some way.

If you’re fishing for the one tie in that will let you spew forth your stories, your sales pitch you quickly become, “that guy” and people will see right through that.

And Your Business?

It’s important to think about how your product or service fits in different situations.  Look for tie-ins that make sense.

The key in all of this is finding ways to listen to and learn from your customers, in order to discover if you have a shared context, a person, place or moment in time that connects you and makes building a relationship relevant.

More importantly we have to recognize the situations we find ourselves in as opportunities for discovering what we share.  Shared context is the foundation for all of our relationships.

How do you discover what you share with your customers?


Photo Credit Miss Rogue

Stepping Away to Improve Your Peformance

Do you ever find yourself spinning your wheels while you’re at work?  Do you ever feel like no matter how hard you concentrate on something, that it just takes that much longer?

Whenever these moments hit, I take time away from what I am working on to reset my brain.  This way, when I come back, I’m refreshed and ready to tackle it.  Oftentimes, I find a solution I was looking for far away from the problem.

Here’s what I did.

What about you? What do you do to reset?


The Honor In Being Prepared

Préparation de Gnocchi

If you’ve been a member of Kitchen Table Companies, then you can appreciate that one of the best parts of KTC is the Monday Morning Mojo email from KTC host, Joe Sorge.

This week was no exception. Except that Joe didn’t have much to say, which is fine. Instead, Joe had read a post that he thought we all needed to read and pointed us there. That’s the easy part, almost lazy, right?

Not on your life.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Joe, is how open he is to learning and beyond that, how prepared he is to take it in.

Joe didn’t just point us to a link at the end of the post, he lays out some instructions:

Please don’t just click on over without preparing yourself to absorb what you’re about to read. Give yourself five minutes to take it in.

In these two simple sentences, Joe shapes the situation a little differently. He sets certain expectations. He tells you that you should check out this post, but ‘only if you’re ready to learn from it’, only if you’re willing to take it seriously.

To Joe, this post contained valuable information, important enough for him to forgo writing his usual email. He also honors your time, both by referring you to the post and helping you to gain something from it. That’s the point after all. Joe understands that you read these emails because you want useful information for your business.

With those simple instructions, Joe managed to stir in me a need to honor his request and either click through prepared, or not click at all.

Prepare yourself

I had a crappy day yesterday, in fact the week got off to a shaky start such that I considered scrubbing it and starting over.

What I am most upset about though, is this feeling of falling off the wagon on a commitment that I had made.

Each week I have the honor and privilege to sit with one of the smartest people I know to work on my business. Last week, Becky and I set some clear expectations and goals for our next call and while I did some of them, I missed the mark on so many more.

I know we all don’t hit our goals each week, but it’s more than that.

The real issue, is that I didn’t come to our time together prepared. I didn’t manage my time well, my commitments well leading up to it and came to the call cold.

My default when this happens is, ”let’s talk about you…”.

Try as I might to keep the focus on her and her work, she called me out.

I squirmed, I deflected, I scraped for something that I had done that was worthy of noting for our time together. I didn’t have much.

Game Time

The real work is done in between.

So often in my life, I’ve made the meeting the work. It’s not. It never has been.

Athletes know this well. They know that the real work is done leading up to the game. Game time is simply a demonstration of everything they have been preparing. They can’t show up, wing it and expect a successful outcome, at least not consistently.

As a reasonably smart person, sometimes it works. Sometimes it works to arrive on the scene and rely on your skills to pull you through. It might even work often and that’s what makes it harder to shift.

The reality though, is that not only are you not honoring the time, work and attention of others (I’m sorry, Becky), you are not honoring yourself.



Photo Credit: spookymic

Setting Up Your World For Success

Table Set reference image 3D

One of my three words for 2012 was the word Set. 

The point of that word was to remind me that in order to accomplish what I want in 2012, I have to find ways to set up the right circumstances.  I have to put success in my way.

Context Matters

Whatever you are trying to accomplish, one of the most important elements is to recognize and create the circumstances for your success.  To that, shaping the situation to your advantage or to the advantage of others if that’s your goal, is a useful skill.

Big and Small

Oftentimes we think of environmental forces and context as much larger, but truly it is the smaller, simple things that can make significant changes.  Something as simple as putting your running clothes out the night before so that it’s easier to get up and hit the street or treadmill, shapes the situation just enough to have life changing, even life saving results.

Shaping my space to accomplish more

Thanks to some great suggestions from my friend Becky McCray, here are 3 ways that I have shaped my day to accomplish more.

Email Filters -

Am I the only person in the world who wasn’t using these right?  I had been using filters for awhile to categorize my email, but my use was primarily to archive them after reading them so that I could find them later.  What I learned was this:

  1. Use Gmail’s “create a filter for messages like these”
  2. Skip the Inbox – this is the big one I was missing.
  3. Apply Label

I had 1 and 3, but nearly lost my mind at the prospect of “Skipping the Inbox”.  What this has allowed me to do, is to Batch Process my emails based on who they are from, or by a topic.  Nothing and I mean Nothing should be landing in my Inbox!

No Emails Until I have worked for an hour and a half

This one still makes me twitchy, but the real rule is not “Don’t Read Email”, it is to work productively on projects for an hour and a half, first thing in the morning.  I honestly think I get more done in this hour and a half than I do in the rest of my day.

Lay out my day the night before

For the time being, I have reverted back to paper lists.  I love the physicality of writing out ideas and things that I need to get done on paper.  Near the end of my workday, I spend 10 -15 minutes writing out what the next day will look like.  Becky also encouraged me to do this while I was still somewhat fresh, and NOT as the very last thing I do in my day.

So, Becky is amazing and I am incredibly grateful for her support and ideas, because helping me to shape these small elements of my day has dramatically changed my productivity and set me up to accomplish even more.

Share some of your productivity tips, or how you’re doing with any of your Three Words for 2012.


Three Words – 2012


Maybe you’ve heard of this exercise, maybe you haven’t.  It’s something that my friend Chris Brogan started several years ago as a way of replacing New Years Resolutions with words that would serve as guideposts to the various goals that he wanted to accomplish that year.

I use them similarly, in that they serve as reminders to stay grounded in my goals.  They can serve to inspire me as well as smack me in the face when I need them to.

I have to say that I didn’t use last year’s Three Words as deliberately as I am setting out to do this year, thus one of my words speaks to that, speaks to not only the process of having and keeping goals, but the work that needs to be done to accomplish them.

One of the things that I like the most about this exercise, is that it’s not about choosing the best words or choosing something that sounds like something I want to happen in 2012.  They also aren’t goals in and of themselves.  These Three Words emerge from time spent reflecting on last year and setting clear goals (I have 100 for 2012) that I can measure and hold myself accountable to.  These Three Words serve me and my goals as both a guide and reminder of what’s important.

So, without further ado; My Three Words for 2012

Reclaim – In 2012, I will be accomplishing goals that serve to reclaim various aspects of my life.  I have several specific goals that are served by this word.  For example, I want to reclaim my physical and financial health for myself and my family and I have specific goals in each of these areas.  The word serves these goals, because it is a reminder that my health is mine to own, both financially and physically.  It is something that is directly affected by personal choices and actions I make to create that health.  The word Reclaim is also an acknowledgement that it is my fault for poor choices made in the past.

Set – Last year I read the book, “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor.  In that book he shared a story where in order to accomplish the goal of learning to play the guitar, he literally put the guitar in between the couch and the television.  This was to ensure that when he sat down after a long day, he didn’t create the excuse that his guitar was too far away to practice.  I have come to call this “Putting Success In Your Way”.

The word Set will serve as a reminder that I must continue to set up the circumstances for my success.  Again, it ties to Reclaim in that I have to own this.  Set also requires an understanding of the goal and what it will take to accomplish it.

Do – As in, DO the work.  I have some substantial goals for 2012.  This is going to be an enormous year for me as you’ll likely learn if you continue to come by here.  Everyone of my goals requires work to be done.  I cannot accomplish them without this last word.  I can’t run a 10K or more if I don’t log the miles ahead of time.  I can’t publish anything if I don’t write or more than that, do the research on what I’m writing about.  Do is a call to action that says, ‘it’s really great that you’re Reclaiming and Setting the stage and all that, but get moving and do the freaking work’

I’d love to hear what your Three Words are and don’t think it’s too late either.

Forget What the Calendar Says – 2012 Starts Now


Actually it haas already started

Truth be told, my sights have been on 2012 for almost 2 months.

Don’t get me wrong, 2011 has been good to me and my family in many ways. I have also made a lot of mistakes along the way. One of those mistakes, was losing sight of some of my goals for 2011. Honestly, one of the biggest mistakes was in not doing a better job establishing those goals. They simply weren’t as defined as I think they should have been.

This year, I will again have my Three Words for 2012, which my friend Chris started several years ago.  Reflecting on my Three Words for 2011, they had highs and lows. What they lacked, for me was a depth, and a plan for execution and accountability.

That will change in 2012.

I’m Not Waiting

One of my goals for 2012 will involve fitness, but I’m not waiting.   I’m not telling myself, “I will start exercising on January 2nd”.  I’ve already begun.  I’ve been at this goal for almost a month now.  I didn’t want to wait for the calendar to tell me it was time.

In fact, I cleared another mental hurdle this weekend by running while I was travelling.  I brought my running gear with me on a trip. I woke up in Boston this morning, definitely not feeling like going for a run, but managed to log a few miles in the city, running through parts of Boston Common on a crisp, December Day.

Last week, I cleared another one by going for a run on a cold rainy day in Maine.

These are all small mental hurdles that have kept me from following through in the past.  I am naming them and moving through them.

Two on the Calendar

A quick look at my calendar will give you a preview how I will measure my progress on my fitness goals.

Tonight I registered for Two 5K Road Races.  One of them is on January 8th, so for me, 2012 has to start now.

So, what do you want to accomplish in 2012?

What are you doing right now to work on that?

Local Business Can Compete with Amazon

Amazon’s $5 Deal

Perhaps you’ve heard the story about Amazon dispatching an army of smartphone wielding shoppers, enticed by $5 and discounts on items.  Shoppers go to local retailers to scan products with Amazon’s Mobile App, see that they get a better deal on Amazon and walk out of the store empty handed and the promise of $5.

I’ve heard phrases such ‘retailers are becoming showrooms for the online marketplace’.

The story though, doesn’t have to be about how Amazon is killing local brick and mortar, it can be about how local brick and mortar can adapt to online competition.

I’m one of those buyers

I’ve done something similar recently, where I went to a local music shop to look at Ukuleles.  The price on Amazon was nearly $15 cheaper.  I went to the owner of the store and presented him with the price and an opportunity to match it, he made a quick phone call to his distributor then turned to me and said, “I just can’t do it, I’m sorry.”

There I was, standing across from the owner and the guys who do the repairs on instruments in a store that has been there for years.  There was the Ukulele in front of me and even though he was certain I would walk away, I laid down my card, bought it and was home and playing in an hour.

I bought it because of the relationship, service after the sale and my desire to have it that day.

Applying Daily Deals Thinking

Another familiar story is the rapid growth of the daily deals industry and t’s industry leader Groupon.

Many Small Businesses have been more than willing to jump on this opportunity, offer a 50% discount, and pay 40% of the sale to Groupon for the promise of increased foot traffic and new customers who will buy more and return later.  This is the key to the success of those promotions.

If this is a successful model for local business, then….

Launch a campaign that takes on the Amazon shoppers directly

Why not use the energy effort and promotional resources of Amazon’s multi-million dollar campaign to your advantage and apply calculations that you’re already considering investing in a daily deal promotion.

As a small business with little to no marketing budget, there is an opportunity to leverage the publicity that this story is getting and swing the doors wide open to the Amazon Scanner Army.

Here’s a sketch:

Announce to the world that you invite all Amazon scanners to your business.  Contact local news outlets who are always hungry for a unique story to get the word out.  This is leveraging the publicity with your own twist.

Welcome the scanners and the foot traffic.

Ask customers to scan whatever items they would like and present it to you for the opportunity to match the price.

Match the price when you can, be honest when you can’t.

Wow them with personal service and provide the instant gratification of getting the product THAT DAY.

Not everyone of those customers will be a win, but neither is the daily deal you’ve been thinking about.

Write a new storyline

We hear it everyday.

“Local Business can’t compete”

“Local Business is dying”

“Your neighbor is losing her job because we shop online”

and my favorite; “Every time you One-click Buy, a puppy dies”

Alright, I made that one up.

There are alternatives.  There are opportunities.  There are new story lines to be written and the first line is:

Local business can compete.

Thoughts on Chris Brogan’s Twitter Unfollow Experiment.

Keep Out Experiment In Progress

Disclosure #1:  I work with Chris at Human Business Works.
Disclosure #2:  Sometimes I disagree with him, it’s what makes HBW work.

The Experiment

Chris posted about the status of his Twitter Unfollow Experiment, citing at one point in the post,

A lot of what I do with each social media tool set is experiment. I work hard to understand what will work well, what won’t, what will serve my needs or my clients’ needs, and what will happen if I do this or don’t do that

Chris also pointed out that despite his original plan to follow people back, that he’s found value in the current state of things and may hang out at 300. A finding he would have never discovered had he not taken a risk and experimented and he’s happy to communicate and share those findings.

The Fear

In a conversation I participated in at PodCamp Boston 6 this past weekend I heard folks talk about the worry they held about their blog posts, ‘what if what I say is wrong?’ or ‘what if what I do is wrong?’
These are valid questions and I could feel and identify with the pain they were expressing and the agonizing over getting it right before posting on a blog or twitter, G+ or other site.

The Challenge

Getting stuff out there, “shipping” if you’re into Seth Godin’s stuff, is a real challenge. Particularly when we are worried about everyone’s perceptions about our brand, our knowledge, our expertise.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

We tell our kids this all the time and truthfully it’s also what you say.  However, how you communicate; earnestly, openly, confidently yet with the humility to know that there are people who are smarter than you, gets you a long way.

You’re going to be wrong

While there are steps you can take to limit the impact a botched experiment has on your brand, once you come to terms with the fact that you are going to be wrong from time to time, it’s easier to be confident with putting stuff out there, trying something new and taking the risk knowing that at least you’ll learn something along the way.

The Lesson

The real lesson in all that Chris did with the Twitter Unfollow Experiment is in the idea of experimentation, communication, and sharing the results.

Experiment because it’s good for you and your business to grow and try new things.

Communicate what you are doing and bring us along for the ride.  We may not like what you’re doing, but at least we understand it.

Share the results.  If you found value in the experiment, tell us about it so that we can draw our own conclusions as they apply to our situation.

A few parting questions:

As a brand or a representative of a brand, do you have the opportunity to experiment within your organization and how often to you take advantage of that?

As a leader, do you give permission for your employees to experiment?

How are you measuring what matters most in the experiment and how will you share it?

Can you afford to fail?

Screen Failure

I recently read “Poke The Box” (Affiliate Link) , Seth Godin’s newest and first Domino book.  While I found the book to be oddly laid out and organized, I did find a number of very useful ideas throughout and many that got me thinking.  One of those ideas, is from a small section called “This Might Not Work”.

Seth encourages us to say those words, often and operate from that position where failure just might exist. In that section, Seth asks the question, “Is your work so serious and flawless and urgent that each thing you do, every day, must work?”

Oh, The Pressure

I got to wondering about how this might be different, or should I say be perceived differently, by leaders in the non-profit sector.   As a contributor at 501 Mission Place, I’ve been thinking about the constant pressure that non-profit leaders put upon themselves, that the margin of error for them, appears much smaller.   As a former non-profit Executive Director, I am familiar with how narrow that margin feels, both financially and to the mission.  There is a sense that one must constantly serve the mission or else risk it all falling apart.


What I notice with some non-profits, is that the mission traps them.  The mission and service to it, tends to narrow the focus of those working in it.  In fact, that’s often the challenge, finding a way to work on your business instead of in it.  If non-profit leaders get stuck in their business, surrounded by mission and service, how then do they grow their organization?  How do they move from being so enmeshed in the day to day realities of who their mission serves, to a place where they can take risks and innovate, to a place where they can comfortably say “This might not work”?

Reflect, Redraw, Rejuvinate

Estrella Rosenberg suggests that we lead with vision instead of mission.  I think she’s onto something,  but I’ll ask the question that I love to ask, “So, what does that look like?”.  No it’s not rhetorical and it might be a bit different for every circumstance, but I am certain that it starts with a few things:

1.  Step away from your work often enough to ask yourself if you are working on the right thing?

2.  If your mission is to serve people at a certain point along ‘the stream’, take time to look further upstream at why folks end up at your spot.  Look for opportunities to become involved in advocacy and legislation that would reduce the need for you to serve.

3.  Look outside your organization, community, and cause to see what you can learn from successful people, organizations and businesses that have gone before you.

More than anything, ask yourself, “What would that look like?” and find the space to try bold new ideas even if they ‘might not work’.

Shooting Free-throws: Cultivating a Practice Ethic

Boys playing basketball outside

March Madness

I caught a bit of ESPN this morning and saw a player from the UCONN women’s team practicing free-throws.  My mind quickly leapt to the stories of Larry Bird (hey I’m from New England) practicing 500 free-throws before school each day, then to Michael Jordan’s legendary practice habits.  While his physical gifts helped propel him to being perhaps the greatest player of all time, it was his work ethic during practice…his practice ethic that made him better than everyone else.

Practice makes…

We’re all familiar with the value of a strong work ethic and we know successful folks who appear to possess a strong work ethic.  What if we discover that  the people who we most admire for their success and apparent work ethic actually possess a strong practice ethic?  The people I know  and have worked with spend tons of time at the free-throw line, shooting hundred of baskets working on the fundamentals, doing the stuff that others might find boring.  They spend time mastering the simplest aspects of the game enabling them to recognize and make the difficult moves more easily.

What does that look like?

This is one of my favorite questions to ask.  I love to ask it when I’m working with other people.  It helps me to take my conceptual understanding to a more meaningful place where I can begin to see something in action, actually working.

It leaves me wondering; What does a practice ethic look like in business?  If you are going to be at the top of your game in your work life, in running your business, in working for a company, in running a non-profit and trying to change the world:  What does practice look like?

I was having a conversation with my friend and business partner, Joe Sorge yesterday.  He talks about being able to ‘work on your business instead of in your business’.  Having only worked with Joe for a short time now and having had the opportunity to visit his restaurants in Milwaukee, it is clear that Joe works on his business.  Joe has a great practice ethic.

For Joe, practice looks like learning, extrapolating and repurposing.  It’s looks like reading;  industry magazines, blogs by Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, John Jantsch and others.  It’s about reading the Harvard Business Review and books by Scott Belsky (Affiliate Link) to glean ideas and repurposing them for his own business.  It’s about engaging people from other industries and thought leaders.  It “looks like” asking questions and contributing to the conversation.

What good is practice if you don’t play the game?

It’s also about action.  It’s about asking ‘So what would that look like if we did that at AJBombers, or Swig, or Water Buffalo?’  Putting all of these ideas into action, testing and experimenting is the important part of ‘Then What?’.  Chris Brogan’s Blog Topics is also a great example of years of practice in idea generation and the craft of writing, put into action.  At over 425 subscribers, it seems like a pretty good game.

Success clearly isn’t coming from just a strong work ethic, it’s coming from a strong Practice Ethic. So, what does practice look like for you?  Are you spending enough time shooting free-throws?