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Sunday
Jul202014

Have Fun Talking About Your Craft

Scene from Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee

Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee can be called a lot of things.

Entertaining - it's hilarious.

Groundbreaking - here's a guy producing a program everyone is talking about, and it's solely for the Internet.

Hip - what's more hip than people getting together for coffee in trendy urban environments?

How about adding this word to the list: inspiring.

The great thing about Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee is that it's so much more than Jerry Seinfeld, a comedian, getting together with other comedians, and talking about careers and comedy. It's a passionate discussion about the craft, and you're along for the ride.

To say the show is funny is an understatement, but it often goes beyond funny and talks about funny, and that's where the inspiration comes in. When the conversations steer towards what makes good comedy and bad comedy, or what a perfect bit looks like, they are talked about with such passion and enthusiasm that it draws you in and makes you feel like an industry insider.

So often when you watch the show, there's nothing you would rather be doing than participating in that conversation with them, going to work in that industry yourself and striving to create something amazing.

The show is a great reminder of how much more fun business is when you are around people who are passionate about it. 

  • Car dealers that are the most fun to talk to are the ones that love cars
  • Graphic designers that are the most fun to talk to are the ones who love art
  • Accountants that are the most fun to talk to are the ones who love to talk about accounting

And those are the people you want to do business with.

Going beyond simply how employees perceive and talk about their specific company, it is a key responsibility of a business's leadership to set the tone for how passionate they are for their industry and craft as a whole. Starting, participating in and encouraging passionate, fun conversations about "the biz" are sure-fire ways to draw your employees in and get them engaged in the business in ways they've never been before.

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Wednesday
Jun252014

Are You Caring for the Person or Just Treating the Disease?

Today, we hear two wildly different stories of the same event. 

A man, suffering from chest pains, has his wife drive him to the ER. The way the patient and his wife perceived the event is entirely different from the medical staff that treated him. According to NPR, the perspecitve of him and his wife:

When the man arrives in the ER, he is told to take off his shirt. He lies in the hallway, in pain, naked from the waist up. Strangers surround him. They don't introduce themselves, and they talk over him, at each other.

Pagers ring and there's a lot of beeping. Someone else must be really sick, he thinks; that must be why no one is paying attention.

After a few minutes, he signs some forms and finds himself being wheeled into an elevator. Masked figures enter. He feels a cool liquid flowing into his veins. The lights go out.

He wakes up hooked up to machines, uncertain what has happened. It takes several hours for the staff to find his wife, who is still waiting in the ER lobby and has no idea why her husband is in intensive care.

They are both surprised when they find out, two days later, that he's had a heart attack. As soon as they get home, they file a complaint with the hospital about their terrible experience.

The hospital's point of view? Within 3 minutes of arrival he's been given an electrocardiogram that determines he's having a heart attack. An emergency heart team is immediately paged, and 22 minutes from arrival he's been given a catheter in his heart (that's 20 minutes ahead of the national average). He's back at work in two weeks, even excercising, and the medical team considers his medical treatment to be a resounding success.

Leana Wen, who wrote the story for NPR, is an emergency physician who also advocates for her patients. Her thoughts on what may have caused these two very different perspectives? She says that sometimes medical teams get so caught up in treating the disease that they forget to care for the person. The patient, in this case, was receiving excellent care; it just seems nobody took the time to really let him know what was going on.

We can all take a lesson from this story. In business, it's easy to get so caught up in the technical details of performing a scope of work that we forget we're doing it for real people with wants, desires, needs and insecurities that go beyond the simple performance of a task.

Think of the bad stereotype of the IT guy Jimmy Fallon played on Saturday Night Live that simply tells you to, "Move!" before fixing your computer. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of that kind of service, so it's important to never be the kind of person who provides that kind of service. 

That means listening when it's time to listen. 

That means walking people through things on their terms at their level when they aren't understanding.

People need to have buy-in. They need to know what's going on. They need to be cared for.

As people.

Do that and they'll think so much better of their experiences with you.

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Sunday
Jun152014

Post-Mortems Benefit Everyone But the Dead Guy: Why You Should Pre-Mortem Your Next Project

Hat tip to the good people over at Freakonomics for an idea that can benefit everyone before you start your next project: The pre-mortem.

In an interview for the Freakonomics podcast, Gary Klein, a cognitive psychologist who specializes in decision making, recommends talking about what could go wrong before the project starts.

How do you do it? The process Klein describes in his interview  is pretty simple.

1) Ahead of the project launch, gather project participants in a room.

2) Have the participants imagine that it's the conclusion of the project and things have gone horribly. So horribly, in fact, discussion of the project is a huge taboo. Team members don't even make eye contact with each other as they walk down the hall.

3) Have the participants write down everything that went wrong. Keep a time limit. 

4) Aggregate and discuss responses.

The real benefit? Reducing overconfidence before the start of a project. Klein feels that people are usually too confident about a project before they begin.

You can listen to Mr. Klein describe the process himself on the Freakonomics podcast. The part of the podcast featuring his interview begins at 20:02.

In the meantime, start planning your next pre-mortem today. Although everyone benefits from a post-mortem as well, it's important to remember that it's everyone except the dead guy.

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Friday
Jun132014

Google Glass, iPad & Why You Should Never Discount Technology

I'll confess: I didn't immediately get the appeal of the iPad.

When Apple first put it on the market in 2010, my first thought was that it was too big to be used as a PDA, and too small to be used as a production devise.

Steve Jobs must have sensed that there would be criticism along those lines when he said something to the effect of it being for media consumption, not production.

To which I though, "Yeah, whatever. Sounds like somebody trying to sell a product."

Which turned out to be exactly true, because sell them he did. Now everyone has their version of a tablet on the market. People seem to use them exactly for the purpose he described.

I was just plain wrong about tablet computers. The lesson I learned is to never discount technology again. Because even if I think a company has the wrong idea about whether people will use the product, or how they'll use the product, when you put technology in front of consumers, consumers have a way of deciding on their own just what those products are to be used for.

That's why I won't join the campaign to bash Google Glass. The people wearing it in public, such as restaurants, seem to be getting a lot of blowback (deservedly so, in my opinion), and admittedly, I have no desire for one right now. But as more people find unique ways to put it to work, and talk about how they are using it, this is technology that can become very useful to many different businesses. Jim Edwards details quite a few of them in this Slate article.

The great thing about new technologies is that they are designed to solve a certain problem, or provide a certain service, and consumers then get to take over and put it to use in ways the developers never would have imagined.

As new technologies are developed, some new ideas will sink and others will swim. While I may have reservations about some of them, doubts about the marketability of some of them, or just plain don't like some of them, I've learned my lesson.

It's one thing to underestimate a technology, but consumers have an amazing ability to adopt new tools and ideas in ways developers never imagined. 

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Thursday
May292014

Just Because You Do Business Better Doesn't Mean Price Doesn't Matter

If you're involved in sales and marketing then you've heard pitches talking about how you shouldn't focus on price. Focus on being unique, and doing things better, and you can don't have to worry about being the price leader. People will willingly pay a little more for a better produce or a better service.

They may be right, but make no mistake, price does matter. And if your customer decides that you've been overcharging, they'll leave you in a heartbeat.

Just ask Wholefoods.

Wholefoods used to be better. They sold organic food that you couldn't find in other grocery stores. It cost more than the non-organic food you could find in the regular grocery stores, but that was okay. People, after all, will pay more for better.

Then one day Wal-Mart and Target decided to get in on the act, and they found a way to do it cheaper and Wholefoods started to seem greedy. They no longer felt like "more expensive, but that's okay, because it's a better shopping experience." It felt like, "more expensive because they way overcharge."

There's a fine line when it comes to charging a premium for what you think is better. Wholefoods, apparently, didn't find it. People left them and their stock started to tank.

Car dealers, much to the chagrin of those who wish to win advertising awards for creative, funny & feel good ads, know this. That's why they talk about price. A lot. Because no matter how much you like the nice guy dealer down the street, nothing will turn him into a not-so-nice guy the minute you find out that you paid $1,000 more for your new sedan than you should have.

If you're in business, you should strive to do better. You should strive to create a superior product and / or experience that allows you to charge a premium. It's one way industries improve, you improve, and yes, you make more money. Just remember to keep your premium in perspective. The minute it goes from the price one pays for excellence and starts making customers feel like they've been taken for a ride, they're gone.

Price really does matter.

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