You are selling something. Think of it this way – what do you do for a living? Not just how do you get a paycheck, but what do you really do for a living?
Todd Sattersten wrote an interesting e-book called Fixed to Flexible. In it he makes this observation he calles the Maney Continuum. As you read the quote below, don’t necessarily think “this is dry business stuff” but ask yourself where on the continuum you find your business, job, ministry, even what you offer your family.
Technology writer Kevin Maney makes a keen observation: He says successful companies always make a strategic choice between providing convenience and fidelity.
Wal-Mart delivers convenience. The big box retailer makes it easy to buy from them through their “everyday low prices”, focused product lines, and near ubiquitous presence.
Harvard University delivers fidelity. The “product” is really an experience. The Ivy League school possesses an aura of exclusivity and prestige. Being a Harvard graduate forms part of the customer’s identity.
Maney is clear though. Companies must make a choice. The dual pursuit of convenience and fidelity causes companies to chase a value mirage and over time these companies are sucked into a place of increasing irrelevance where customers understand less and less why they need those products. Marketing expert John Moore believes this is what has happened to Starbucks as the company has moved away from their fidelity based roots but not fully embraced being a provider of convenience.
If this sounds familiar, convenience versus fidelity is just another way of describing transactional versus relationship-driven businesses.
Are you offering something for everyone at the lowest transactional cost (in the family situation: are you just doing what is convenient), or such a high quality that it may cost time, sacrifice, and deep relationships? There may be room for something in the middle, but the middle should push towards either end.
I found the book ReWork by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson recommended from several sources so I thought it would be worth reading. There are a lot of bad business oriented books, and many that just repeat common knowledge. Not this one.
The authors, founders of 37signals, provide a lot of advice that goes against the grain – which is wonderful. The grain left me rather itchy most of the time anyway. Get the book, it needs to be sitting on your desk or somewhere easily accessible. Here are some of my favorite blurbs (for more, just get the book):
- More people should be learning from their success instead of their mistakes
- Plans = Guesses
- The message > tools
- A one hour meeting with 10 people = 15 hours of lost productivity
- What are you against?
- Say no by default
- Let your customers outgrow you
- Test-drive employees
- Nobody likes plastic flowers
- Everyone should be on the frontlines
- Don’t scar on the first cut (policies are the scar)
My favorites of the favorites:
- Inspiration is perishable
- Build an audience by teaching (not selling)
- Focus on what won’t change
Which do you want to hear first: the good news or the bad?
It really doesn’t matter, because you are going to focus on the bad news anyway.
That is the negativity bias at work. But just because it is more natural to jump to the negative thoughts and emotions, doesn’t mean that is what you should do.
When you don’t hear back from someone as quickly as you expected, do you think negative thoughts or do you give them the benefit of the doubt? Are you more focused on not failing than you are on risking and trying to grow? Are you right now trying to justify any of your negative behaviors rather than taking the hard step of facing them?
Do you want to know why small gestures of appreciation work so well? Because they rarely happen.
In one study, researchers found that giving a small gift of candy to medical residents improved the speed and accuracy of their diagnoses. Another study found that a 10 percent increase in something called “motivating language” from leaders boosted worker satisfaction by 10 percent and performance by 2 percent. The neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor came to believe that positive encouragement lay at the heart of her recovery from a stroke that nearly killed her. “I needed those around me to be encouraging,” she wrote. “I needed to know that I still had value. I needed to have dreams to work toward. I needed people to celebrate the triumphs I made every day because my successes, no matter how small, inspired me.” Every leader would do well to heed Taylor’s prescription. (167)
You could change someone’s day by something as simple as a handwritten note. You could have a life-changing habit if you set aside one hour a week to write notes.
In the book The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, the author Tony Schwartz starts off by talking about the difference between master violinists, good violinists, and your average group. It probably isn’t hard to guess the most important activity to becoming a great violinist – practice. The master group just loves to practice, and it happens more often.
What was fascinating was that it wasn’t an all-day, consuming activity. It was intense practice without interruption. And that kind of focused practice is draining, which means 90 minutes was the longest length of practice time and 4 hours was the limit for the day. After that level of activity, deep recovery was needed and the second most important activity was often a part of that – sleep. The masters took more naps and got better rest at night so that they were at their best during their work time.
Their 4 hours of hard practice was the equivalent of what many do with their 8-10 hour workday (long periods of unfocused, multitasking activity). Add to that the fact that many people do not get the rest they need at night, and start their day already unfocused and have a hard time catching up.
Because the number of hours we work is easy to measure, organizations often default to evaluating employees by the hours they put in at their desks, rather than by the focus they bring to their work or the value they produce. (7)
What if you decided that you weren’t just going to punch a clock and settle for mediocrity, whether it is with work, your family, or a hobby, but you would give that time your best and most focused effort? It may be exhausting, but the energy you gain from bringing something of value will more than make up for it. You might even sleep better at night.
We recently held a birthday party for my youngest son and he had a great time. He and his friends played laser tag, opened gifts, and went crazy with the cake. Then we went home and starting packing boxes and setting aside toys that were a few years old that we are now giving away.
It led us to this thought: on this special day in which we celebrate the life of this boy who is growing up to be a young man that contributes to society, we make it a party that completely revolves around him and getting more.
How well you perform is linked to your personal stereotype. You have a picture of who you are in your head, often subtly influenced by society (and maybe not so subtly from peers).
I heard this first from Radiolab’s “Obama Effect, Perhaps” based on this article (with the caveat that the study has not gone through formal peer review). The study showed that African American’s average grades on a standardized test improved as Obama’s prominence rose. In a different study, if African-Americans were told that they were solving a “puzzle” instead of taking a “test,” their scores rose. Radiolab also discusses a test in which women with the exact same math credentials as men did worse on a difficult test – until they were told that this particular test showed no difference between men and women.
The most fascinating study to me was a putting test. When participants were told it was an intellectual test about problem solving, the white participants scored higher. When the scientists told a new group that it was a measure of athletic skill, the African-American participants did better.
The studies seem to show that there is a large impact on societal perceptions – whether you believe them or not. You don’t have to even buy into the stereotype, it just has to have the chatter happening in your brain to keep you from full concentration.
“The real subtle power of a stereotype isn’t that it prevents you from the thing you want to do, it distracts you for just a beat from the thing you want to do. And that may be all the difference.” (Radio Lab’s Jad Abumrad)
What you are telling others, or what you are telling yourself, can improve how you perform and how you perceive the world. Believe it.
This book by Neil Postman was an interesting read (which, if you read it, you are already getting pretty far by Postman’s standards) because it is about the loss of a literate culture to a picture/entertainment oriented culture. Postman’s thesis is that with this movement of culture, started by the telegraph and taking its ultimate (at least in the mid 1980s) form in television, people are being turned into idiots.
Postman’s main beef isn’t with mindless TV shows, which can be found endlessly. It’s with the programs that try to be thoughtful, such as the news and religious programming, but are ultimately about entertainment because of the form of the medium. TV programs are trying to spread a simplistic message to the widest audience possible, and must do so with pictures that are meant to stimulate emotions rather than your intellect within a few minutes.
A great version of a wonderful book in ten minutes.
Disillusionment is a good thing.
We don’t like to go through those phases in our lives in which some belief that we held falls apart before us, creating a struggle to make sense of the world. But sometimes we need them, because just hearing something doesn’t mean much unless we somehow experience it for ourselves.
Social psychologist Leon Festinger coined the term cognitive dissonance to describe this affect when two different ideas or perceptions of realities pound into each other, causing quakes in our lives.
Rob Walker, in his book Buying In, talks about cognitive dissonance leading to:
inventing, on a nonconscious level, a rationale for behavior that justified it despite clearly contradictory evidence – much the same way a smoker who knows cigarettes are dangerous invents rationales for having another one just the same. Elliot Aronson, another social psychologist, built on Festinger’s work in arguing that we regularly adjust our beliefs to make sense of the facts in a way that allows us to tell ourselves, “I am nice and in control.” (38)
That’s what it really boils down to: the illusion that you are in control. Maybe when we realize how little we really do control, we will be more open to learning and listening, and a little less dissonance.