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

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?

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?

Reflective Practice

Reflective Practice is defined by Donald Schon as “the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning”.

All the kids are doing it

And by kids I mean masters. Aside from the fact that prominent thinkers such as Schon, John Dewey and Jean Piaget have been talking about it for decades. I think I first noticed it when reading Dale Carnegie several years ago. He has a section in his book where he talks about learning a key element of productivity from a Wall Street Banker who religiously conducted a weekly review every Saturday. His family knew and gave him the time. It was a key to his success.

“Sharpen the Saw”, is one of the ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ that Stephen Covey talks about. Think about that. Covey boiled years of reading and research down to 7 Habits (yes, I know there are 8 now) and one of them is about taking the time to reflect, redraw and rejuvenate. Seems important to me.

These guys are too old for you? OK. How about David Allen, who also recommends a weekly review to maintain a ‘mind like water’? Oh, and my personal hero, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s Touchpoints Approach (who is the youngest older person I know), maintains that Reflective Practice is key to growing as a professional and growing in your interactions.

I reflect all the time

I have always, quite naturally reflected on situations, circumstances, interactions, accomplishments, and of course, failures. I’m a bit of an associative thinker and I’m sure there’s a touch of “SQUIRREL” tucked in there somewhere. So, I might begin the process of reflecting on an interaction and end up thinking about what it would be like to ride a segway on an ice hockey rink.

Natural is fine, but is it doing anything for you? Natural abilities are wonderful, but what could they be in the hands of a master, someone who is willing to hone and develop those abilities. The question is, how do you hone your abilities to reflect?

Ask the right questions – Framing

These may not be the right questions for you, but I’m going to offer 5 questions here to share with you one possible frame for Reflecting. I have come to understand that for me, reflection has to be intentional, deliberate and framed to keep me focused in order to extract meaning. This means that I have to ask myself the right questions.

What successes occurred this week and how can you build on them?
What struggles did you encounter this week and what can you learn from them?
What remains unfinished from this?
What resources do you need?
How will you approach next week differently?

Don’t allow yourself to give quick and simple answers. Think about your interactions small and large. Think about your relationships with your employees, your clients, your customers. Dig deep and look for the unexpected and overlooked interactions that may just help you get better.

What questions would help you frame your reflections?

Listening Differently

I have been reading Trust Agents by Julien Smith and Chris Brogan and as often happens for me when reading a new work, I take something away that feels slightly askew of what the book is about.  One example of this in Trust Agents, is where the authors talk about the tools that the interwebs have for listening to what people are saying about you or your organization.  They point us to all the nifty gadgets that are available for us to pull this information together with.

My mind immediately went to my own organization, but not in the same way.  I need to pull information together internally.  I need a better collection of the moments in time data of many moving parts of our organization.

It used to be easier

A few years ago within our previously small non-profit there were a few programs and listening and sharing were easier.  Getting information about the performance of our programs was often as simple as having a conversation with a teacher, therapist or director and asking for it.  It was softer, it was simpler, it was more personal and a couple of objectives could be achieved simultaneously:  connecting with staff and understanding how we were doing in each program.

What happened?

Having experienced some rather rapid growth (doubling the number of employees in 18 months through growth, not acquisition), I have noticed that the information I am needing and the speed at which I need it about our organization internally has changed.  We have over 20 financial departments that require reporting internally and externally.  We have dozens of revenue streams that must be managed, many of which are grants, all of which need reports.  Our customers/clients have grown and changed each one requires services that are as unique as each of them.

What I will be changing

Listening Internally

With Chris and Julien’s suggestion to create a dashboard of external listening, I came to the realization that my internal methods of listening were too scattered, inefficient and not as clearly rooted in the data to drive decision making as they should be.

Delegating

Again, the advice in Trust Agents is to delegate because your community needs you.  While I have enjoyed the collection of information process through connecting individually with staff, I have redirected the reporting responsibilities of programs (and adding/fine tuning a few), to my Executive Assistant to aggregate the important data.  She already receives and reports much of it externally to state agencies, foundations and the like, it just needed to be pulled together internally in order to listen to what it might be telling us.

Dashboard

All of this aggregation of data is being reported on an internal Dashboard.  The use of a dashboard is not a new concept, but I have used it as a reporting tool for our board and not necessarily as a listening tool for me.  It is my internal RSS feed albeit not as easily or neatly pulled together.  It will be one way in which I listen to some key indicators of our performance within the organization.

What’s Next

All of this would be useless if I didn’t have a plan for it or a reason why I am doing it.  None of this is entirely novel, and I have been doing it in some form and fashion for the last five years.  The difference is the size and scope and amount of information.  The difference is the time it takes to gather the information via my old means.  The difference is that I have to listen differently in order to understand my community and be present for them. Now that I am gathering this information in one place.  Now that I have changed the way I listen to that aspect of our organization, I have time for all of the other things.  I have time to hear the stories and visit with programs and listen for the meaning behind the data.  It gives me time and purpose with which to participate in my internal and external communities.   So thanks Chris and Julien for sparking an actionable idea.  Now, back to the book.

What do you really do with it?

dart balloons

I’ve been reading Chris Brogan and Seth and Jon and Darren and Marc for awhile now.  Each site is wonderful and unique and keeps me coming back for different reasons.

Recently I have been following Jon’s posts about deliberate practice.  It’s one of his three words along with focus and something else and yes, he knows that makes it four words.  But in his posts around deliberate practice and links to those of others, he mentions that it takes 10,000 hours to be world class at something.  You can go read about that here.  My point (at least the one I’m getting to eventually) is this:  What do you really do with all that stuff you are reading online?

Seth

If you read Seth Godin at all and you are even remotely responsible for marketing, building relationships, telling the story within your organization (I know, everyone in the organization is responsible), I was wondering if reading Seth actually changed not just the way you occasionally think, but the way you approach your work?

Chris

Chris’ site has evolved into something that I don’t even recognize as what he started in 2006 with 4 comments a post and a heavy dose of Self Improvement.  It is however, immediately recognizable as Chris Brogan.  It’s about value and relationship and breaking things down into manageable chunks and measuring and trying something new with purpose and intention.  For those of you who read Chris, what do you really do with that information?

So, I am wondering.  We have so many passionate, thoughtful, creative, and brilliant individuals producing piles of content emerging from their experience and constant experimentation.  Are you really using this stuff?  Is it changing the way you do approach your world, your business?  I’m just asking.

N.B.  My friend Jon has been thinking about this too and has some suggestions here.

5 years

Portland Museum of Art Calendar

I’m coming up on my five year anniversary in my position as Executive Director of a social service non-profit in Maine which serves children and families.

Truth be told it’s a few months away, but I have a tendency towards nostalgia.
I don’t remember if the interview committee asked me about where I want to be in five years.  I don’t remember a lot of what they asked, but I do remember a sense of calm.  I remember things feeling right.  What I do know is that the kernels of where I wanted the agency to be, through an expansion of our ability to serve children and families, were there shortly after I arrived.  I just wasn’t sure how.

What I do know is that I had to spend time with this agency, I had to spend time with the people and understand the mission and the history.  It was crucial in my mind, to understand this history and build upon it’s strengths in order to grow and serve more children and families in new ways and at the same time honor the mission of this agency which was here long before me.  I think we’ve done that well.

In thinking about hitting the five year mark, I also realized that while I have been with other organizations longer than five years, I have never been in one position this long without moving “up the ladder”.  I was with one company for eight years, but in that time I held 6 positions with 5 different titles in 4 different locations.  I just kept moving to what was “next”.  After eight years when “next” wasn’t with that organization, I went to one that offered me “next” and within 6 months, I was promoted to “next” at that organization.
The funny thing is, when I think about what is next for me, it continues to be with this organization and it continues to be in this position.  Next is linked to so many possibilities for this agency, so many ways in which we can meet the needs of children and families, so many things that are not yet done and it makes me wonder what done even looks like.
I love this work more than I have loved any other “work” that I have done and I have always been fortunate to serve children and families.  However, I didn’t just arrive here five years ago, I felt led and that same sense of purpose keeps me right here.

For someone who has moved up so quickly and so often, it is an interesting feeling to see next this way.

Overachiever

Potato Breeder 2

Merriam-Webster defines Overachiever as: one who achieves success over and above the standard or expected level especially at an early age.

This sounds only partially accurate to me, based on how the term seems to be used in our culture.
I was recently having a conversation with a friend who happened to be labelled an “overachiever” by his team mates.  Only the label didn’t feel like a recognition of his success but an accusation.  More than that, it sounded like an excuse.

Because of this I began to wonder if there is a sub-text for the way in which this word was used and often is used in our culture.  Perhaps it goes a little like this:
‘Well, you do all of this “extra” work because you’re an overachiever.’

Beyond that I wonder if we can also hear…

‘You do more work than I am willing to do, so I will call you an ‘overachiever’ so that I might find reason not to have to do the same amount of work that you do’

What about you?  Are you unwilling to do as much work as the successful person in the office next to you, or are you an overachiever?

A Bit Behind…

DSC_0047

January is the new December.

I’m not even sure December happened with all of the preparation and travel and busyness of the holidays. When I look at my calendar I can see that I had meetings.  I can see the results.  I know that at home we lit candles for Advent…but I didn’t experience Advent.  I don’t feel like I took the time to prepare…for anything.

January is here now and I am already reading new blogs, about new plans and strategies, about new words (3 or 300) that people are writing or using to guide them.  It feels like some sort of starting gun went off and I’m not even sure what course I’m supposed to be running on.  I want to yell out…”wait for me!”
OK, Maybe I am being a bit dramatic.  I’m really not behind and I have begun to work on some significant changes for 2009 and beyond, many are however still in idea/plan stage and haven’t moved into full on strategy and implementation stage.

Truth be told, 1/1/09 was not a starting gun.  Today and tomorrow are opportunities to begin and where would I end up if I didn’t take time to acquaint myself with the course.

So, perhaps I’m right on schedule.  I have had the chance to reflect and plan some, strategies are forming and implementation must be right around the corner.

All that said, so far I like 2009.  Hey, what’s not to like, it’s only a few days old.

Here are a few things I like so far.

1)  I like that I get to enter this year with so many new relationships.

In the past year I have found opportunities to connect with new people and have connected with old friends in new ways.  Thank you Facebook and Twitter and….
2)  I am entering 2009 with some interesting new perspectives based on 2008 experiences.
A few things happened to slow me down in 2008.  Some of my growth plans for the agency were put on temporary hold.  A key member of my team has been out for an extended period forcing me to take on some of additional responsibilities and dig into her role in new ways.   She is extremely valuable to this agency and her work is broad.  This experience of digging in to her role will allow me to support her in new ways and will support the long term health and vitality of our agency.

3)  My whole family feels like it has renewed energy and focus.

I am excited about the possibilites.  This isn’t some sort of New Years resolution, it is something that has been building.  It is something that we have been cultivating in our relationships.  Meg works hard to keep our home engine running smoothly.  Each one of us has their primary and supporting roles on our journey.  We have always been flexible enough to toggle between the two categories when necessary.  We are on the verge of a renewed understanding of this partnership as a couple, as parents, as friends and as managers of the business of family Hatch.  I appreciate her greatly and know that exciting things are on the horizon.
So, if you didn’t get your plans in order for 1/1, remember that January is the new December.   Now hurry up!  :-)