This article first appeared in my business column at AMEX.
“There is no doubt,” says renowned creativity expert Edward de Bono, “that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.”
A 2012 Adobe study on global creativity shows that eight in 10 Americans believe that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth, yet a full 82 percent feel they’re not living up to their creative potential.
One of the reasons for not attempting to be creative—apart from time constraints and the pressure to be productive—is most people’s deep-seated fears that they may not have what it takes when it comes to creativity. But creativity is essential for success in any business. Maintaining the status quo only leads to mediocrity.
Guard against becoming stagnant by updating your services, looking for a fresh approach, sprucing up your offerings and continuously looking for novel and improved ways to serve your customers. To stimulate your creativity, here are eight practical exercises, tools and concepts to help you develop and enhance your creative thinking so you can creatively solve problems and come up with new ideas for your business.
1. Develop a Customer Journey Map
The most fertile ground for creative ideas can be feedback from your own customers. A customer journey map can show you how your customers view you by mapping out all the steps customers go through when they engage with your company. It’s an incredible tool that can help you differentiate your service from that of your competitors by helping you understand what your customers’ needs are at each of those steps, how well you meet those needs and what you can do to creatively improve. If you need help setting up your own customer journey map, check out this step-by-step guide by BigDoor, a company that helps brands build customer loyalty.
2. Create a Table of Contents for a Book About Your Problem
Michael Michalko, author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques, provides a wealth of tools for generating creative ideas to solve problems. One such tool is a table of contents for a book about whatever problem you’re trying to solve. It’s surprising how quickly this method generates ideas you may not have thought of. You could also try Michalko’s Thinkpak, a brainstorming deck of illustrated, idea-stimulating cards.
3. Use Lateral Thinking Techniques
Lateral thinking, the brain child of de Bono, is a creative-thinking process that looks at challenges from entirely different angles, as opposed to the conventional, more linear or logical approach. One such method, outlined in de Bono’s book, Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step, is the “random word technique.” This idea-generating tool involves choosing any random noun and coming up with as many associations that that word conjures up, then brainstorming any ideas that each association sparks for solving your problem.
For example, you might want to innovate the products you offer at your bakery. The random word you chose is “eraser.” What associations come to mind when you think of the word “eraser?” You might think “pencil.” What ideas does a pencil give you for innovating your baking products? How about creating small baked goods in the shape of colorful pencils and selling them in a package of 12? Your slogan could be “A healthier pencil to chew on.” This might generate further ideas for introducing a line of baked goods that would appeal to children.
You can do the random word activity on your own or in a team to quickly generate many ideas. Give it a try. You’ll be amazed at how effective this tool is in sparking new ideas.
4. Set Up a Google Alert
Set up a Google Alert for a problem you’re trying to solve or for inspiring creative ideas in an area that’s of interest to you. Collect as many ideas as you can. It’s quite likely that your problem isn’t new and others have found creative ways to solve it. Even if the exact answer isn’t there, you’ll derive inspiration from the many entries that are related to your problem.
5. Draw a Fishbone
“When you’re stumped,” says Keith Sawyer, author of Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, it may be because you haven’t identified the true cause of the problem.” The “fishbone” technique he created—so-called because the finished diagram looks like a fish skeleton—helps you determine all the possible causes of your problem.
You start by writing your problem on the right side of a piece of paper. Draw a circle around it—that will be the fish’s head. Then draw a straight line from the circle to the left, and draw “bone” lines above and below this central line at 45-degree angles. On each of the bones, write one possible cause of the problem.
6. Use the IDEO Method Cards
IDEO, an innovative design company, created a pack of 51 cards representing diverse ways design teams can understand the users they’re designing for. The cards showcase different design methods and explain how and when the methods are best used and how they can be applied to real design projects.
Even if your business isn’t design-related, you can derive inspiration from these cards. As IDEO states, its cards are relevant to groups that aren’t engaged in design. The tool can effectively help you explore new methods to problem-solving, gain different perspectives and inspire your team to be creative and try new approaches. The cards are also available as an app.
7. Use the Re-framing Matrix Technique
The Re-framing Matrix tool was created by Michael Morgan, CEO at Herrmann International Asia, and discussed in his book, Creating Workforce Innovation. The tool helps you look at business problems from a variety of perspectives that can yield a greater range of creative answers. The tool is based on the premise that different people, with different experiences, view issues from different angles. To use the tool, create a simple, four-square grid. In the middle of the grid, write down the problem you want to solve. You then have two ways to use the tool. The first is to use the “4 Ps” approach to look at your problem from the following viewpoints: product, planning, potential and people.
The second way to use the tool is to look at how other professionals or specialists would approach your problem. For instance, a medical doctor would look at it with a different set of eyes than an engineer; a sales manager would view it differently from a gardener. Use your imagination to see what different specialists would look at—wearing a different hat will force you to expand your thinking. A full illustration of this technique can be found at Mind Tools.
8. Establish a System to Collect Ideas
Ideas can pop into your mind at any time, but if you don’t have a way to capture them, you’ll most likely forget them. One of the most effective things you can do to be more creative is to start an idea journal. It doesn’t need to be elaborate. Just carry a small memo book such as Field Notes with you wherever you go. The material you collect in it will be your inspiration for new, creative ideas.
This article first appeared in my business column at AMEX.
As the English proverb goes, “Time is the soul of business.” What are the biggest time thieves in business? Research shows that, next to conversations at the water cooler and computer and software problems, meetings are the biggest culprit. They are an insidious productivity killer for small-business owners.
Well-conducted meetings can lead to enhanced communication and greater buy-in and consensus. However, many meetings fail to achieve objectives because the person running the meeting didn’t plan the end properly. Do you do any of the following at the end of your meetings?
1. Not paying attention to the “meeting after the meeting.”
Someone who holds a meeting after the meeting, usually behind closed doors, to disagree with a course of action is hurting productivity. End with a “closing round” to give everyone a chance to comment on the meeting out in the open. Often, this unveils issues you can address to prevent them from surfacing later. As Ev Williams, co-creator of Twitter and Medium, explains, in a closing round ”there is no discussion or back-and-forth allowed. People tend to talk for less than 30 seconds (often a lot less), so you could close a large, 10-person meeting in less than five minutes …The closing round is worth doing, because it gives everyone, in a sense, a ‘last word’—the chance to get something off their chests that they might otherwise carry around or whisper to their colleagues later.”
In his seminal book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap … And Others Don’t, author Jim Collins researched highly successful companies and found that one of their practices is to unify behind decisions. No matter how heated and vigorous the debate is in search of the best answers, when they leave the meeting, people stand united regardless of parochial interests. If this is not the norm in your company, confront team members to change the culture.
2. Failing to designate responsibility.
How often have we attended meetings, or strategic retreats, where the gathering ends with a lot of excitement and decisions to pursue new directions, only to see it all fizzle a few weeks later? This is because the meeting ended with no clear accountability on who will do what. Apple has a system it calls the Directly Responsible Individual (DRI). This is assigning one individual, not a team, to be responsible for an action item.
In this video, Adam Lashinsky of Fortune magazine explains how the DRI concept establishes accountability and helps a giant company such as Apple function like a small startup. All meetings at Apple have an action list, and next to each action item is the DRI. Consider following this model so you eliminate any confusion on who’s responsible for what at the end of each meeting.
3. Not following up on action items.
A surprisingly common problem with meetings is not having a system in place to follow up on action items, making sure people do what they say they’ll do. Use Outlook’s Meeting Workspace Site to track tasks. (Here are step-by-step instructions on how to do this.) You can also use a system such as After The Meeting, which allows you to easily and effectively track action items assigned in a meeting.
4. Taking too long to share notes from the meeting.
Meeting notes are crucial to help everyone remember what was discussed and decided. Often, the designated note taker makes detailed notes but they are either distributed too late or not distributed at all. One way to get around this problem is to use a program such as minutes.io, which helps you minute your meetings easily and make notes available to everyone without delay. It’s free and you don’t need to be connected to the Internet during the meeting to use it. Two other note taking tools that will help you simplify your meeting process are OneNote and Less Meeting.
5. Not evaluating the meeting.
Ending each meeting without evaluating how it went is a surefire way to ensure that unproductive behaviors and procedures will be repeated from meeting to meeting. You show respect for people’s time and efforts when you take a moment at the end of each meeting to check in on how people feel about the meeting. A simple, “What worked well?” and “What could we improve?” can yield useful information that will save time in the future. You can even designate someone to monitor the meeting and provide a brief, verbal report at the end. Consider, as well, using a system such as Google Forms to create a survey that’s sent out periodically after an important meeting.
6. Not ending the meeting on time.
One of the worst practices in meetings is not respecting the announced ending time. Frequently, this is due to the meeting starting late, or the meeting chair letting some team members ramble on or go off topic. Take an inspiration from Google, which often has a giant timer on the wall to exert subtle pressure and prevent meetings from running off schedule. As author Carmine Gallo explains, “It’s literally a downloadable timer that runs off a computer and is projected 4 feet tall.”
7. Ending a meeting at a bad time.
Often, customers, employees or other stakeholders who work in others cities join the meeting by phone. When these individuals are in different time zones, they sometimes have to excuse themselves from the meeting just before the meeting is concluded. This can result in inefficiencies as they may miss last-minute details of what was decided concerning action items that are their responsibility. Make an effort to schedule meetings that take into account optimal times for everyone’s attendance. Use the World Clock Meeting Planner to help you in this regard.
This article first appeared in my business column at AMEX.
Have you ever noticed that many speakers end their presentation the same way a car runs out of gas? As their last bit of fuel is used up, they sputter to an abrupt stop as though they just got tired of thinking.
No matter how good your presentation is, a lackluster ending will significantly detract from your ability to influence others. The conclusion of your speech is your last chance to hammer home the importance of your message. It’s a lasting impression that listeners take away of you and, by extension, your company.
So how can you make listeners sit up and take notice as you bring your presentation to an end? One common way is to summarize your key points. Although some listeners are likely to tune out a summary because they’ve just heard what you said, provide a very brief recap, if it’s warranted, but don’t stop there.
What will make your speech stand out is to end it with a focused statement, one that really grabs your listeners in unexpected ways: It can surprise, inspire or entertain them; it can touch them emotionally or engage them intellectually. We’re talking about a punchy ending, akin to a tagline—something well-thought out and powerful that’s likely to be remembered.
12 Powerful Endings
Here are some ideas to help you create an effective final statement:
1. A surprising fact.
During his speech at Global Entrepreneurship Week, venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary outlined what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. But instead of ending with a rehash of what he just said, he chose to share a surprising fact to motivate his listeners to go where the money is. “Did you know,” he said, “that there are more billion-dollar cap companies outside North America than in it for the first time ever? … We have aging societies, and everywhere else is on fire. If I were you guys, I would get on a plane and go to Brazil.” A surprising fact has the power to re-engage the audience’s attention, which is most likely to wane by the end of a presentation.
2. A list of rolling credits.
There are times when it’s appropriate to thank people publicly for helping you prepare a dazzling presentation at an important event. You can do this in a way that adds pizzazz to your conclusion by using the PowerPoint’s Credits feature. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to do this. You can also watch a video demonstration of this feature. This is so unusual that it’s bound to be noticed and remembered.
3. A cartoon.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz ends his TED presentation on The Paradox of Choice with a New York Post cartoon of a fishbowl with the caption, “You can be anything you want to be—no limits.” He says, “If you shatter the fishbowl, so that everything is possible, you don’t have freedom, you have paralysis … Everybody needs a fishbowl … The absence of some metaphorical fishbowl is a recipe for misery and, I suspect, disaster.” This is a brilliant ending that combines many elements to engage the audience: a visual, some humor and a metaphor. Consider ending your presentation sometime with a relevant cartoon to elucidate your message. Here is a source for quality cartoons.
4. A provocative question.
Ending with a question, or a rhetorical question, is a surefire way to gain attention because questions stimulate our neocortex. As author Dorothy Leeds explains, “Our old brain runs by instinct. That’s the part that animals have. They don’t ask questions. The purpose of our ‘new brain’ is to override and challenge our old brain, and we do that by asking questions.” The minute you ask a question, listeners are generally drawn to ponder an answer. It’s even more engaging when the question is provocative, or when it touches potentially sensitive areas of our lives.
Entrepreneur and CEO Ric Elias ends his talk on “3 Things I Learned While My Plane Crashed” with a series of life questions, with the most provocative one at the very end: “And more than anything, are you being the best parent you can?” You can also ask a question and answer it. For example, “Can we afford to bail out the banks? Can we afford not to?” or “What is personal in this digital era? Nothing. Your life is on full display.”
5. A sound bite.
A sound bite is an attention magnet. It cuts to the core of your central message and is one of the most memorable takeaways for today’s Twitter-sized attention spans. Consider Steve Jobs’ famous last line at his commencement address at Stanford University: “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” And here’s an example from author Steven Johnson, in his presentation “Where Good Ideas Come From.” In speaking about how innovation happens, Johnson ends with, “Chance favors the connected mind.”
Think about how you can distill your message down to a crisp, memorable statement. After you’ve crafted the statement, ask yourself: Is it tweet-worthy? Above all, does it represent your authentic voice? Does it accurately condense what your core message is about? Listeners, especially business audiences, have a radar that quickly spots an effort to impress rather than to genuinely communicate an important message.
6. The rule of three.
The rule of three is one of the most memorable patterns. Think “location, location, location”; “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”; or three-word slogans, such as “Just Do It.” Here are a few examples of how speakers do it. Jeremy Gutsche, CEO of TrendHunter.com, ends his speech on innovation with three key benefits: “By leveraging viral trends and methodical innovation, you can generate ideas, harness creativity and ultimately exploit chaos.” Dianna Cohen, co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, ends her talk on plastic pollution with a three-pronged declaration: In using alternatives to single-use plastics, Cohen says, “We can save our oceans, save our planets, save ourselves.” Alan Siegel, a brand identity consultant, also uses the rule of three to end his speech on simplifying legal language: “How are we going to change the world?” he asks. “Make clarity, transparency and simplicity a national priority.”
7. An unusual quote.
A relatively easy way to powerfully end your speech is by using a quote. For this to be effective, however, the quote needs to be one that has not been heard so often that it has become cliche. Ken Banks, founder of kiwanja.net and FrontlineSMS, quotes Einstein to sum up his thinking on the real value of money: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” If you use a worn-out quote, consider adding a twist to it, as Heather Fleming, CEO of Catapult Design, does in her talk on designing change. She mentions Gandhi’s quote: “You have to be the change that you want to see in the world” and adds this twist: “But the part that was missing for me was getting the courage to be the change that you want to see in the world. I hope that we can all engage in that concept.” This is a smart way to personalize a quotation and make it resonate with others.
To access fresh quotes, consider searching current personalities rather than historical figures. For example, a quote on optimism can come from financier George Soros: “The worse a situation becomes, the less it takes to turn it around, and the bigger the upside.” A quote on marketing can come from a contemporary businessperson: “Your culture is your brand,” says Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com. You can also research quotes for the specific industry your clients belong to so the quote has a personal impact: Here’s a sampling: automotive, aviation, real estate, branding, social media marketing, and finance & business, to name a few.
8. A touch of humility.
In a world where everyone flashes their achievements and opinions, those with an understated approach shine. Supermodel Cameron Russell ends her talk on TED saying, “If there is a takeaway to this talk, I hope it’s that we all feel more comfortable acknowledging the power of image in our perceived successes and our perceived failures.” Contrast this with a bolder, “As I have proven to you, image plays a powerful role in our perceived successes and our perceived failures.” When you make a compelling case in your presentation, there is value sometimes in contrasting this with a touch of humility at the end.
9. A running clock.
Marketing and advertising executive Dietmar Dahmen ends his Create Your Own Change talk with a running clock to accompany his last statement. “Users rule,” he says, “so stop waiting and start doing. And you have to do that now because time is running out.” If you’re delivering a time-sensitive message, where you want to urge your listeners to move quickly, you can have a background slide with a running clock to add pizzazz to your last statement. Here is how you can insert a countdown timer in PowerPoint.
10. A powerful visual.
In The Power of Video, Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, says that a huge chunk of our brain power is devoted to processing visual images. “It’s how we communicate, it’s how we share information,” Kaku says. “It’s by images, pictures, videos that we understand the universe.” Make use of this power by ending your presentation with a riveting visual that ties to your take-home message. Here’s an example from architecture and design firm NBBJ’s chief marketing officer, Tim Leberecht. In the final moments of his talk on ways to usefully lose control of your brand, he displays a photo of the Mona Lisa and says, “A smile is a door that is half open and half closed … companies can give employees and customers more control or less. They can worry about how openness is good for them and what needs to stay closed, or they can simply smile and remain open to all possibilities.” The image becomes a visual metaphor that makes the message stick.
11. A return to your opening.
A standard piece of advice on closing is to return to your opening. For example, refer to whatever hook you used in starting your presentation. This can be a wrap-up of a story you started or an answer to a question you posed. It can also be a reaffirmation of your presentation title or the title of the conference at which you’re speaking. You can’t go wrong with a book-end closure.
12. One more thing.
Steve Jobs was known to end his presentations with “one more thing.” Author Chris Higgins assembled clips of every Steve Jobs “one more thing” endings. You can use the same tactic to add richness to your presentation as you wrap up. It’s the additional cherry on the sundae. Pick it with care.
This article first appeared in my business column at AMEX.
In his TED talk, author James Geary claims that we utter about six metaphors a minute. One thing we know for sure is that metaphors pervade our everyday language. Advertisers and political speech writers use metaphors to influence our thinking. In business, a metaphor can be a dynamic tool to power your communication, to persuade and inspire others to listen to you. As Geary says, “Metaphor conditions our interpretations of the stock market and, through advertising, it surreptitiously infiltrates our purchasing decisions … in the minds of businesspeople, it spurs creativity and innovation.”
The simplest definition of a metaphor is that it helps us understand one thing by referring to another. A metaphor deepens our understanding by comparing the unfamiliar with the familiar, the theoretical with the concrete, the complex with the simple. We do this unconsciously when we use everyday clichés such as “the secret sauce,” “it’s in the company DNA,” or “best of breed.” Metaphors that have turned into a cliché become worn-out language. They are better left on the shelf with other stock phrases that clutter our communication and don’t inspire. What works are fresh metaphors—they make others want to lean in to hear more of what you have to say.
Most businesspeople avoid creating metaphors because they don’t fully understand their value in drawing and maintaining attention; but above all, they avoid them because they don’t know how to use them. Here is a brief primer on how to come up with verbal gems.
1. Pay attention to metaphors others use.
Become a metaphor anthropologist by taking notice of novel metaphors you come across. If you read or hear one that grabs your attention because it’s original, write it down for inspiration when you prepare your own presentation or speech. One example is from Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch, who talks about obstacles in achieving our dreams: “But remember, the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” Another example is from entrepreneur and author Seth Godin, a master of the metaphor. He uses the metaphor of jazz vs. bowling to show the different ways we approach work. Jazz leaves room for the imagination, for creativity, flexibility and adaptation, while bowling is more linear and “all about one number: the final score … and yet … when we get to work, most of us choose to bowl.”
2. Develop your own metaphors from scratch.
You don’t have to depend on metaphors from external sources; you can create your own. Here’s how: Choose the concept you want to spice up with a metaphor—let’s say you want to explain that without change, your organization will not progress. Think about the negative characteristics that come to mind for something that doesn’t change: It stands still, it can get run over, it stagnates, it can’t go forward, it stays behind while others are moving past it, it blocks what’s behind, it creates a gridlock. You get the idea. Now think about what associations any of these words bring to mind. For example, the word “stagnate” might bring to mind a body of water. When water is confined, it accumulates debris, and the water becomes stagnant. But when there is wind and the water is allowed to move unrestricted, there is a flow and the water is fresh and rejuvenated. Now you can develop the metaphor: A lack of change in an organization can be likened to a stagnant pool of water, littered with the debris of outdated modes and practices that hamper the flow of fresh ideas. For additional inspiration, check out this helpful article on metaphor writing.
3. Borrow metaphors from movies.
Many movies contain inspiring metaphors that can move people. For example, in Any Given Sunday, Al Pacino delivers a rousing speech to his football team. He uses a metaphor of winning by inches: “The inches we need are everywhere around us … we fight for that inch … because we know, when we add up all those inches, that’s going to make the … difference between winning and losing.”
4. Position yourself or your business with a metaphor.
Anne Miller, author of Metaphorically Selling: How To Use The Magic of Metaphors To Sell, Persuade, & Explain Anything To Anyone, explains the benefits of using a metaphor that anchors your products, service, or personal uniqueness in the minds of your clients to experiences or people they already know. For example, Cisco Systems routers promote integrated security for corporate computer systems. How does it anchor this product that shields data from hackers? The ad says, “I am a snarling pack of dobermans.” This is a powerful image of a pack of dogs that will sniff out burglars and vandals and protect your company. Another example of anchoring comes from a Web-design company: “Web design is a tricky business. You can get a beautiful looking result, but if it doesn’t work, it’s useless, like a Porsche with a faulty engine. We deliver websites that both look good and perform well.” What vivid image can you use to define your business?
Listening to some of the best locker room speeches can motivate you when you’re preparing to speak to your staff or at an event where others look to you for inspiration, especially in difficult times. Almost always, these speeches make use of metaphors to fire people up, or to celebrate a win. Watch, for example, Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano as he gives a post-game speech to his team. He says: “… you guys were living in the vision, and you weren’t living in circumstances … you refused to live in circumstances, and you decided consciously, as a team, as a family, to live in the vision. And that’s why you bring things home like you brought home today.” Juxtaposing the vision to circumstances is a powerful reminder to people to keep their eye on the ball—on what matters—and not to let whatever is going on around them derail them.
7. Use visual metaphors with care.
Visual metaphors enliven your slides and grab attention. However, many speakers use visual metaphors that have become clichés. For example, a visual metaphor for the importance of thinking outside the box might predictably show a man coming out of a box. Compare this with an image of a cubic watermelon or a skeleton X-ray with a lock. Don’t use the first visual that comes to mind, as it’s likely to be what everyone else would do. Search for more abstract or imaginative images as metaphors. Don’t use an image just for decoration; choose an images that says something.
8. Adapt the metaphor to your audience.
Just as a golf pro picks and chooses clubs based on the demands of the shot, when you use a metaphor, consider which metaphor is appropriate for your particular audience. For example, with some groups, war metaphors have a strong impact, while with others, family metaphors may have a greater impact. Metaphors also have a cultural meaning that may not be readily understood by those outside the culture. When it comes to metaphors, one size doesn’t fit all. Think of your listeners and select the metaphor that best highlights the concept you want to amplify and is the best fit for that audience.
9. Vary your metaphors.
No matter how successful a metaphor is, guard against becoming a prisoner of one or two recurring metaphors that you use often in your presentations or speeches. Metaphors can quickly become stale from overuse. Continue to update your metaphors. It will pay lifelong dividends for your career.
This article first appeared in my business column at AMEX.
A survey by the American Psychological Association reveals that approximately seven in 10 Americans experience physical or non-physical symptoms of stress. These include irritability or anger, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed and changes in sleeping habits. Prolonged stress can lead to burnout. Burnout is defined as an emotional condition marked by physical and emotional exhaustion, loss of interest, cynicism or frustration that interfere with job performance. Burnout leads to feelings of failure and thoughts of “giving up.”
Beyond the usual advice of healthy eating, exercise and adequate sleep, what are some things that you can do to prevent burnout? Here are 10 tips:
1. Know what can trigger burnout.A Scientific American article describes the 12 phases that lead individuals to experience burnout. The first one is a compulsion to prove oneself—an excessive ambition to show colleagues, and themselves, that they excel at what they do in every way. The higher expectations lead to working excessive hours, doing it all themselves, in an obsessive desire to prove that they are irreplaceable. They end up neglecting other life priorities, such as their health. The article points out that “once important things such as friends and hobbies are completely dismissed. Their only standard for evaluation for their self-esteem is their jobs. They become increasingly emotionally blunted.” Leisure time becomes dead time. Know the symptoms of burnout so you don’t let this happen to you. This is an important area where self-awareness can help you manage your life effectively.
2. Practice the relaxation response on a regular basis. The relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response. Dr. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School pioneered an effective method to elicit the relaxation response. The important thing to remember is that this needs to be practiced on a regular basis.
Suspend your skepticism about meditation. Meditation is no longer something that is reserved for Tibetan monks. Many businesspeople today practice meditation as a way of restoring their energy. Scientific studies reported in This Emotional Life, a PBS program, that meditation helps us cultivate the capacity to restrain our impulsive emotional reactions. A habit of meditating strengthens our ability to remain cool under fire. If practiced regularly, it quiets the emotional noise in our lives, strengthens our self-control and can drop anxiety by 50 percent. A quick way to practice meditation is to use an online meditation program to guide you along. Give it a try.
3. Pay attention to what is fragile in your life. Work-life balance is not easily achievable in a highly competitive environment. Nonetheless, think about some small changes you can make to tip the scale. Find the right equilibrium between tension and relaxation. If you need inspiration, consider what Bryan G. Dyson, CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, said to his staff: “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them—work, family, health, friends, and spirit—and you are keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—family, health, friends, and spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
Are there any glass balls in your life that are not being handled with care? A woman who worked for years in palliative care wrote a touching list of the five top regrets people express on their deathbed. One of them is “I wished I didn’t work so hard.”
4. Take a good look in the mirror. Some causes of burnout could be related to a subconscious need to feel important. This could lead to taking on more than we know we can handle, because we equate being very busy with being successful. Wanting to feel important is common to human beings. We all need to feel special in the eyes of others.
However, for some people the adrenaline rush from being busy—and being seen as busy—can get out of hand. They end up forgetting how to relax. If this describes you, genuinely come to terms with this by facing it head on. Ask yourself if you feel important when you are very busy. Does the need to feel important cause you to have an unhealthy lifestyle, working very long hours, eating on the run and not getting enough sleep? Acknowledging what may be a contributing factor to your hectic lifestyle is the first step to making meaningful changes.
5. Honor and cultivate the things that make you happy. Stress triggers vary from person to person. Triggers can occur when our specific needs are neglected on a regular basis. For some, it might be the need to have some solitary time to recharge and enjoy silent pursuits, such as thinking, envisioning, strategizing or simply escaping. For others, it might be the need to be creative. These needs are a part of life’s enjoyment.
As Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, said: “When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices.”
6. Improve your communication pattern. One of the causes of burnout is unproductive work behavior. An example of this is our habitual style of communication; for example, sending long emails instead of picking up the phone or simply getting up and going to someone’s office or cubicle, rambling on in meetings instead of paring down your message. When there is conflict with a colleague or employee, maybe you use the Sherman Tank approach—confronting them head-on without considering the time-consuming, stressful consequences.
Think about how you come across. Are you hasty, noisy, distracted? Do you raise your voice often? In addition to your to-do list, create a communication list: For example, write down the points you want to discuss before you phone someone. Briefly consider what succinct message you can leave if you need to leave a voice-mail. Every small step you can take to turn down the intensity volume in the way you communicate can bring more calm into your day.
7. Find out your resentment triggers. Most driven people can work long hours, and manage heavy workloads and multiple demands without feeling the stress. They even thrive on it. There may be some situations, however, that can trigger a feeling of resentment. When these situations prevail for a long time, the resentment grows and leads to negativity and stress.
In “How to Avoid Burnout”, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, addresses this issue: “I have a theory,” she says, “that burnout is about resentment. And you beat it by knowing what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful.” She gives an example of noticing early signs of burnout in one of her employees. For him, resentment started when he repeatedly had to miss out on his traditional Tuesday night dinners with friends. For another hard-working employee, it was arriving late to her kid’s recitals. What is the one thing that causes you to feel resentment? Deal with it honestly and directly to avoid festering resentment.
8. Set up a morning ritual. What happens first thing in the morning has a way of influencing how the rest of the day goes. Establish a morning ritual that pleases you and sets you up for a successful day. For some people, it might be brewing a perfect cup of coffee and spending 20 minutes on Twitter. For others, it might be walking the dog to the park in the early hours, or spending 15 minutes reading non-work related material. Square CEO Jack Dorsey wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to meditate and go for a six-mile jog. Every morning is a fresh try in life.
One way to do this is with mindfulness. Mindfulness means being consciously aware of our whole self, other people and the context in which we live and work. It involves taking care of our bodies, harnessing the power of positive emotions such as hope and compassion, and cultivating some spirituality in our lives. As businesspeople, we have been trained to focus on the rational mind and the mechanics of business, and we are advised to leave the soft stuff at the door. But ignoring the body, heart and spirit means bringing only parts of ourselves to work. This creates an emptiness—we can end up being disconnected from ourselves, our customers and even friends and family. Don’t let this happen to you.
10. Take a test to determine your risk of burnout. The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) is the most commonly used tool to self-assess whether you’re at risk for burnout. To determine the risk, the MBI measures three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, feelings of competence and achievement, and cynicism or loss of empathy. This is useful information to help you assess your situation so you can make some changes before you, in fact, burn out.
This article first appeared in my business column at AMEX.
“Values are the key to making money, but only if a company truly takes values seriously,” says Martin Carver, former CEO of Bandag, and executive-in-residence for the Kelly School of Business. Companies spend a lot of time creating values statements that end up being nothing more than words on the company website, or a poster hanging in the lobby.
Company values benefit customers, suppliers, employees and the community. Businesses with strong values, driven from the top down, are also able to attract and retain the best talent. All of this directly affects the bottom line. But for values to make a positive impact, they need to be a part of the corporate fabric—something that people live and breathe on a daily basis.
A great example of a company that does just that is marketing software firm Hubspot. (Watch how it treats values in this slideshare.) One of its values is, “We obsess over customers, not competitors.” It translates that statement into actionable items: For every decision, it asks, what’s in it for the customer? Will this delight them? Hubspot uses the acronym SFTC (Solve For The Customer) to remind employees to stay focused on their core value: educating customers, rather than exploiting them. It even goes as far as defining what obsessing over customers does not entail: “We shouldn’t sell to a customer if we’re not justifiably confident we can delight.”
How can you make values meaningful in your own company or team? Here are 14 tips:
1. Make your values clear so everyone understands them. Values may have been crafted by a consultant or the marketing department, and may not always use language that’s readily accessible to everyone. Values, like mission statements, need to be articulated in such a way that they easily flow from everyone’s lips, whether they’re in the boardroom or the boiler room. Companies often obsess over wordsmithing and end up with vacuous statements. Use concrete language that everyone can relate to and make the values clearly say what you care about.
2. Don’t generalize: Turn values into specific operating principles. More often than not, values are generalized concepts that can be interpreted in various ways by different people. If you want people to truly live the values, make them actionable. Let’s say one of your values is open communication. What does this look like in everyday behaviors? One of the actions aligned with the value might be: “Everyone in the organization, independent of position or title, is encouraged to provide criticism of anything they see that doesn’t work.” By giving specific examples, you place a road map in the hands of employees who are lost in the forest when it comes to espoused values.
3. Make values “committable.” Take an inspiration from Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. In this video, he outlines his company’s 10 core values. He calls them “committable values,” which means the company is willing to hire and fire based on whether people are living up to the values, independent of their job performance. This certainly sends a clear message that the company doesn’t just pay lip service to the values.
4. Use the interview process to find people who have similar values—and hire those people. For each of your values, makes sure you have carefully developed a set of questions to probe for the candidate’s fit with your values. Trust your gut feeling. For example, if one of your values is humility, don’t hire an egotistical individual who shows signs of arrogance, convincing yourself that he “will add value to the company.” Sooner or later, that person will be a negative influence on the culture you are trying to establish because he doesn’t fit from the get-go. Make enough of these compromises in hiring, and the integrity of the values is eroded—people then stop paying attention to the values. As Jim Collins says, you can’t install new core values into people. “People must be predisposed to holding them … find people who are already predisposed to sharing your core values. . . attract and then retain these people and let those who aren’t predisposed to sharing your core values go elsewhere.”
5. Seek employees’ feedback on the values. Find out what people think about the values. Do they see others living the values? Are there day-to-day practices you may not even be aware of that conflict or contradict the values? Are the management practices effective in fostering the values? Does everyone even know what the values are?
6. Enforce values across the board. Make sure that every person in your shop or team lives the values—whether it’s the sales clerk or the sales vice president, the manager or the machinist. Often values are the purview of upper management and don’t filter down to every person in the organization.
7. Use your core values to empower employees. You can replace onerous policy manuals and handbooks by educating everyone on company values. It’s impossible to come up with a rule for everything. Values become the compass that guides employees in making decisions. It empowers them to use their judgment. This is especially important today, with our global economy, where employees are scattered across satellite offices. Values are a company’s megaphone.
8. Communicate the values often. Trust is at an all-time low. Research from the Edelman Trust Barometer shows that repetition enhances believability. Values are often considered a one-time event: Once they’re crafted, laminated and posted, they are no longer referred to except perhaps at the Christmas party gathering. Take every opportunity to promote the values and keep them alive.
9. Set the example. Above all, ensure that you and your senior team live the values in all you do. Words, without evidence that the words are being applied, reinforce people’s skepticism about the believability of corporate values. As Jim Kouzes puts it, “Titles are granted, but it’s your behavior that wins you respect.”
10. Understand the different types of values—and analyze to see where yours fall. Companies often mistake core values (who we are) with aspirational values (who we would like to be). Continuously talking about aspirational values as though they are the real values is a surefire way to fuel employee cynicism. In Make Your Values Mean Something, Patrick Lencioni adds two other categories of values: permission-to-play (the minimum behavioral and social standards required of any employee) and accidental (which happen spontaneously within a team and take hold over time.) Sift through your values and ask yourself which ones are the true core values.
11. Put a monetary value on your company’s values. A study shows that less than 50 percent of companies measure their ROV (Return On Values.) Give some thought to how you can show your people the direct link of values to revenue and earnings growth. It pays to reinforce the importance of values to the health of your company.
12. Uphold the values in good times and bad times. What a company does in times of adversity is even more important than what it does when all is going well. In 2008, Maple Leaf Food was implicated in a foodborne illness caused by an outbreak of Listeria. One of the company’s values is “Do What’s Right: By acting with integrity, behaving responsibly, and treating people with respect.” And what did CEO Michael McCain do in response to the crisis? He immediately took responsibility, posted an apology on the website and said: “Certainly knowing that there is a desire to assign blame, I want to reiterate that the buck stops right here … our best efforts failed, not the regulators or the Canadian food safety system … I emphasize: this is our accountability and it’s ours to fix, which we are taking on fully.”
13. Beware of the small infractions. A Fortune Magazinearticle on why companies fail talks about how actions that spiral a company down are the result of an incremental descent into poor judgment: “A ‘success-oriented’ culture, mind-numbing complexity and unrealistic performance goals all mixed until the violation of standards became the standard.” While this refers to big companies doing bad things, the concept applies to everyone, no matter the size of the company: Small integrity slips have a way of slowly diluting a company culture. Make sure that disrespecting the standards doesn’t become the standard behavior.
14. Always show leadership. Proactively manage your own behavior. You have total control on how you deal with your employees and customers. Show leadership in everything you do, and you will have improved your corner of the universe. It might even spread to others. What a wonderful contagion this would be.
A study reported in the Harvard Business Review shows that one of the skills most serial entrepreneurs lack is empathy. Empathy is a powerful antenna for understanding the experiences of those around us. It helps good leaders become great leaders and is a key to business success. As management guru Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” Empathy is an important component of keeping a customer.
In Wired To Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy, Dave Patnaik illustrates how successful organizations practice empathy for the consumer in the way they do business. One such company is Herman Miller, which uses empathy to understand the customer and build better products. A company statement explains, “We gain empathy by engaging with nurses and other caregivers in multiple ways. Facility tours, focus groups, gaming sessions and job shadowing help us develop insight into the work of caregivers, to really understand what they do, what their workday is like.” The company then shares those experiences with product development teams through reports, hallway conversations and workshops.
Some people are gifted with a high empathy level while others struggle with the notion. If you or your business struggle, here are seven ways you can practice empathy on an organizational level:
1. Use outsight. Allot five to 10 minutes in your regularly scheduled meetings for everyone to quickly share what they have heard in the field about your product or service. It’s a good way to keep your ear to the ground to find out about customer issues that may otherwise not surface. Don’t wait until you hear a complaint to respond. Use all the knowledge you gain to engage with customers and let them know you care. Empathy engenders loyalty.
2. Build a culture of empathy. When empathy is not practiced within the organization—with all constituents—it’s impossible to expect it to happen with customers. Whitney Hess, a user experience consultant, talks about how designers, for example, focus their efforts on developing organizational empathy for the end-user, but neglect to do the same on their own home turf. As she put it, “They say you can’t truly love another before you learn to love yourself. Organizations are no different. If we don’t love and respect and admire the people we work with every day, we can’t collectively give our customers the love they deserve.” Empathy is an inside-out job.
3. Know who you want to do business with. Entrepreneurs often start businesses without being fully aware of who they want to cater to. A company might start with a B2C model, only to find out in midstream that a B2B model is where they would have focused if they had done a proper analysis. Seth Godin writes, “… too often, we pick the product or service first, deciding that it’s perfect and then rushing to market, sure that the audience will sort itself out. Too often, though, we end up with nothing.” Whether you’re a real estate broker, a bowling alley investor, a yoga instructor or app developer, Godin adds, “in every case, first figure out who you’d like to do business with, then go make something just for them,” Are you targeting the right people? Do you fully understand their needs? If not, what can you do to change this?
4. Build empathy in your post-purchase policies. While everyone should be trained to use an empathetic approach at every touch point with the client, this is particularly important in your post-purchase policies. Make it easy for people to seek redress, if needed. How a customer is treated when things go wrong has an impact on whether or not the person continues to be your customer. For example, watch commission-based frontline employees who may treat a customer seeking a refund with less warmth than they did during the purchase. In Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over And Collaboration Is In, Peter Shankman shows how a focus on empathic service builds revenue. A customer-centric leader has a framework in place to quickly meet customer demands, puts a premium on what customers say and do, and changes what’s not working without looking back.
5. Write intelligible user manuals. We have all been through the annoyance and frustration of having to follow instruction booklets that tested our patience. Some are so badly written, in a rush to get the product out the door, that you would never know from the writing that the person actually followed the same instructions themselves. Putting yourself in the shoes of the manual reader is one small but impactful way to show empathy.
6. Take an empathy test. People generally know whether or not they have empathy. However, we often misjudge the extent of our empathy. If you need help to raise your self-awareness in this critical area, consider taking this free online Empathy Quotient test. To get feedback from your constituents on your empathy level, consider taking an emotional intelligence test.
7. Empathy as a way of life. If you have children, there is probably no greater gift you can give them than to help them understand and practice empathy early on. Take an inspiration from this the video below showcasing how Japanese fourth grade students are taught empathy. Closer to home, we have Roots of Empathy, an organization that has been successful in developing empathy in children and decreasing aggression and bullying.
“There’s only so low you can go on price. There’s only so excellent you can make your product or service. There’s only so far you can stretch your marketing budget. Your heart though—that’s boundless.” Gary Vaynerchuk‘s comment captures the essence of the humanization of business: treating our business relationships as we would our personal relationships, showing the customer that we really care. It’s about applying the timeless principle of reciprocity.
Reciprocity—giving in exchange for receiving—is one of the most powerful tools for building customer loyalty. In Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, Robert B. Cialdini talks about the importance and universality of the norm of reciprocity, which makes us feel obligated to repay others for what they have done for us. The norm drives us to be fair and equitable in our everyday social interactions, our business dealings and our close relationships. It engenders trust with others.
Reciprocity sometimes gets a bad rap. It’s seen as a mercenary act—a “you owe me” kind of exchange, or a form of manipulation. But the other side of the coin is that reciprocation can be a genuine act of caring, a way of showing up in the world. It’s about cultivating business relationships in a manner that is not different from the way we cultivate personal relationships that matter to us. When done genuinely, from a natural desire to be of service, the rewards are high.
How can you make use of the principle of reciprocity to make true connections? These 8 tips will help.
1. Conduct an audit of all your business relationships. Are you taking any business relationships for granted? What can you do to rekindle the initial interest you showed in the relationship? This could be as simple as sending a handwritten note to thank customers for their continuing support, or giving them an unexpected bonus such as free shipping or a special deal. It could be recommending their business to others, or providing them with some free information that is particularly useful to what they do. Nurture existing long-term relationships the way you court new ones.
2. Adopt the motto: “No Interaction Left Behind.” The motto comes from Vaynerchuk. Small businesses that are active on social media have a tremendous opportunity to connect with their customers. Take every chance to be responsive to all interactions, not just complaints. Respond appreciatively to positive customer reviews, or any comments left on your site. Use the many digital tools of reciprocity, such as retweeting, liking, commenting, sharing, replying, adding to Google circles or recommending by clicking +1, the digital shorthand for “this is cool.” All of these actions signal: I appreciate you.
3. Be generous. We will never known what opportunities we may have missed in life by showing up tightfisted. It’s hard to receive anything if we don’t open our hands to give. This is true in our personal life as it is in business. Take the example of a travel agency. You book a cruise with one agency and you get good service, but nothing else. Another travel agency also provides good service, but goes the extra step of having a bottle of wine to greet you in your cabin, with a personalized note. Sometimes the difference between keeping and losing a customer in a competitive market is nothing but the cost of a $30 bottle of wine.
4. Give ‘em the pickle! Take an inspiration from Bob Farrell, restaurant owner who pioneered the “Give ‘em the pickle“ customer service concept. The program started when a disgruntled customer sent a letter to complain that he was no longer going to patronize the restaurant because for years he had received an extra pickle with his food, but when a new waitress joined, he was asked to pay for the extra pickle. Since then, the war cry of Farrell’s company has been “Give ‘em the pickle.” It’s about ensuring that every employee in your shop or company makes serving others their number-one priority. Find out what the customers want and make sure they get it. That’s the pickle. The pickle is the extra thing that you can do to make people happy. What’s the pickle for your company?
5. Reward referrals. Referrals that translate into a business deal not only generate revenue; they also save you time and money in your sales expenses and sales cycle. For a small business, in particular, they are golden currency. It’s surprising how many individuals don’t reciprocate beyond saying thank you in an email that requires less effort and energy than the person expended in providing the referral. A handwritten note to let the person know how much you appreciate the referral is a more caring way of responding. Add a small gift certificate to Starbucks, some theater tickets or a box of chocolates—any token of your appreciation. If the business deal was substantial, make it more personal with an invitation to dinner to genuinely show your gratitude. It’s the old school way of doing business. It’s being human.
6. Add value through quality content. Don’t tease people by providing some small content and monetizing the rest. Freely share quality content, on a regular basis, to engender good will and develop a following. It will come back to you in different ways. Ask your followers online what information would be most helpful to them. Research problems your customers might be having in their business and publish answers on your blog. Zach Davis, from Tech Cocktail, suggests that you use the Twitter Advanced Search feature to research people’s complaints and solve their problems whether or not their issue is directly tangible to your business model. As he puts it, the mere act of doing this favor is enough to trigger a sense of reciprocity.
7. Listen, listen, listen. Editorial cartoonist Frank Tyger once said, “There is no greater loan than a sympathetic ear.” In today’s noisy world, filled with distractions, people are starved for someone who truly listens. Listening is one of the kindest reciprocal activities. Give your employees and colleagues the gift of your attention by carving time to listen to their problems, hopes and aspirations.
8. Give without expectation. Despite what the principle of reciprocity dictates, give without any expectation. A common Chinese proverb says, “Forget the favors you have given; remember those received.” When we do favors, or go the extra mile with the intention of collecting later, something inevitably leaks through in our interaction with others. People can smell this a mile away. Making people feel obliged backfires, as they resent it, and it also diminishes the initial act. Finally, give to those who can be of no use to you. John Wooden put it beautifully: “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”
This article first appeared in my business column at AMEX.
“When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire,” says advertising executive David Ogilvy. You have only 30 seconds in a TV commercial to grab attention. The same applies to a presentation. The first 30 seconds of your talk is crucial. This is the time your listeners form an impression of you, and of what’s to follow.
Like a fine thoroughbred, you need to hit the ground running by starting strong. Instead, many presenters are more like old, tired workhorses—they start weak by wasting those first precious seconds with platitudes and pleasantries. Brain research shows that we don’t pay attention to boring things. Surprise your listeners with a hook that immediately grabs their attention.
The key is to make sure that the hook is brief, well-rehearsed and pertinent to your topic. What follows is 12 hooks that will grab your audience’s attention—and keep it.
1. Use a contrarian approach. Make a statement of a universally accepted concept, then go against conventional wisdom by contradicting the statement. For example, a market trader starts by contradicting the commonly held advice of buying low and selling high. He says: “It’s wrong. Why? Because buying low typically entails a stock that’s going in the opposite direction—down—from the most desired direction—up.” This is a provocative opening that engages the audience right away.
2. Ask a series of rhetorical questions. A common way to engage the audience at the start is to ask a rhetorical question. Better still, start with a series of rhetorical questions. A good example of this tactic is Simon Sinek’s TED presentation. He starts with: “How do you explain when things don’t go as we assumed? Or better, how do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions? For example, why is Apple so innovative? … Why is it that they seem to have something different? Why is it that Martin Luther King led the civil rights movement?” A series of rhetorical questions stimulate the audience’s mind as they ponder the answers.
3. Deliver a compelling sound bite.Use a catchy phrase or sound bite that has pungency and watch how the audience perks up. Innovation expert Jeremy Gutshe opens his talk with: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast. This is a sign that is on Ford’s strategy War Room. And the lesson from it is not how good your PowerPoint slide deck is, what it really boils down to at the end of the day is how ready and willing your organization is to embrace change, try new things and focus in when you find an opportunity.” To be effective, the sound bite needs to be brief, interesting and compelling.
4. Make a startling assertion.A surefire way to gain people’s attention is by starting with a startling or amazing fact. Take the time to research startling statistics that illustrate the seriousness of what you’re going to talk about. For example, a presentation about conservancy can start with: “Every second, a slice of rainforest the size of a football field is mowed down. That’s over 31 million football fields of rainforest each year.”
5. Provide a reference to a historical event. There are times when the day that you present may have some significance in history that can be tied to the subject of your presentation, as an opening gambit. You can easily look up what happened on any day in Today In Sport or a more general site such as This Day In History. You never know what pertinence it might have that will add some pizzazz to your presentation. It’s worth a look.
6. Use the word imagine. The word imagine invites the audience to create a mental image of something. Ever since John Lennon’s famous song, it has become a powerful word with emotional appeal. A particularly skillful use of the word occurs in Jane Chen’s TED talk.
She speaks about a low-cost incubator that can save many lives in underdeveloped countries. Chen opens by saying: “Please close your eyes and open your hands. Now imagine what you could place in your hands, an apple, maybe your wallet. Now open your eyes. What about a life?” As she says this, she displays a slide with an Anne Geddes‘ image of a tiny baby held in an adult’s hands. There is power in asking the audience to conjure up their imagination, to play along. This tactic can easily be adapted to any topic where you want the audience to imagine a positive outcome, or a vision of a better tomorrow. It can be used, as well, to ask them to imagine being in someone else’s shoes.
7. Add a little show business. According to research, 100 percent of Americans quote movies, primarily comedies, in conversation. One of the primary reasons is to entertain. Movies occupy a central place in most people’s lives and a well-placed, pertinent movie quote at the start of a presentation can perk up your audience. Here are a couple of examples: “There’s not a lot of money in revenge” (from The Princess Bride) and “The first rule of leadership: everything is your fault” (from A Bug’s Life.) And here are a couple of sites for movie quotations to start you off: Best Business Quotes From The Silver Screen and The Best Business Wisdom Hidden In Classic Movie Quotes.
8. Arouse curiosity.You can start with a statement that is designed to arouse curiosity and make the audience look up and listen to you attentively. Bestselling author Dan Pink does this masterfully in one of his talks. He says: “I need to make a confession, at the outset. A little over 20 years ago, I did something that I regret. Something that I am not particularly proud of, something that in many ways I wished no one would ever know, but that here I feel kind of obliged to reveal. In the late 1980s, in a moment of youthful indiscretion, I went to law school.” Curiosity here leads to some self-deprecating humor, which makes it even more effective.
9. Use quotations differently.Many speakers start with an apt quotation, but you can differentiate yourself by stating the quotation and then adding a twist to it. For example, “We’ve all heard that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. But we need to remember that a journey to nowhere also starts with a single step.” You can also use a quotation from your own life. For example, in a presentation on price versus quality, I have often used a quote from my grandfather, who used to say: “I am not rich enough to buy cheap.” There are innumerable sources for online quotations, but you might also consider The Yale Book of Quotations, an app that brings together over 13,000 quotes you can adapt to your purpose.
10. Quote a foreign proverb. There is a wealth of fresh material to be culled from foreign proverbs. Chances are your listeners have never heard them so they have novelty appeal. Here are some examples: “Our last garment is made without pockets” (Italy); “You’ll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind” (Ireland); “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down” (Japan), and “Paper can’t wrap up a fire” (China). Here is a site for foreign proverbs.
11. Take them through a “what if” scenario. A compelling way to start your presentation is with a “what if” scenario. For example, asking “What if you were debt-free?” at the start of a money management presentation might grab your listeners’ attention as it asks them to look forward to a positive future. It can intensify their desire for your product or service. Using a “what if” scenario as an opening gambit is easily adaptable to almost any presentation.
12. Tell them a story. Stories are one of the most powerful ways to start a presentation. Nothing will compel listeners to lean in more than a well-told story. Science tells us that our brains are hardwired for storytelling. But the story needs to be brief, with just the right amount of detail to bring it to life. It must be authentic and must have a “message,” or lesson, to support your viewpoint. Above all, it must be kind. As Benjamin Disraeli said: “Never tell an unkind story.”
This article first appeared in my business column at AMEX.
To be a successful leader or entrepreneur, we need to become intimate not only with our strengths but also with our blind spots, those aspects of our personality that can derail us. John C. Maxwell defines a blind spot as “an area in the lives of people in which they continually do not see themselves or their situation realistically.”
All of us have blind spots. A Hay Group study shows that the senior leaders in an organization are more likely to overrate themselves and to develop blind spots that can hinder their effectiveness as leaders. Another study by Development Dimensions International Inc. found that 89 percent of front-line leaders have at least one blind spot in their leadership skills.
When we’re in a leadership position, our blind spots can cause a great deal of damage, not only to our career but to the people who depend on us. How can you avoid this potential pitfall for yourself and your business? These eight tips can help.
1. Raise your awareness of the top blind spots. This Executive White Paper shows the 10 blind spots that are most risky to personal and organizational success. The top three are: under-communicating strategic direction and priorities, poorly communicating expectations, and waiting for poor performance to improve.
Leaders are often surprised when stakeholders complain that there isn’t enough communication about the business’s vision and strategy. There is a communication gap between what leaders think is enough and what stakeholders need. Communication also extends to one-on-one leadership conversations. Leaders often fail to see the harm that is done to the organization when they consistently avoid having the difficult conversation with a non-performer, hoping the issue will resolve itself.
2. Don’t hire in your own image. In the Top Ten Mistakes that Entrepreneurs Make, Guy Kawasaki includes one of the most pervasive blind spots that leaders often have: Hiring people who are like them instead of hiring individuals who have complementary skills. Hiring people who are similar results in organizational weaknesses. As Kawasaki puts it, “You need to balance off all the talents in a company.”
3. Establish a peer coaching arrangement. Every leader can benefit from peer coaching with leaders in other organizations. As a business owner, consider peer coaching with a noncompeting business that’s the same size. In Five Ways To Find Out What You’re Doing Wrong, Les McKeown says, “Most organizational blind spots are size-related, not industry-specific. In other words, your blind spots will have more in common with other businesses of a similar size and age than they will with other businesses in the same industry.”
4. Examine your past history. To gain insight into behaviors that may not serve you well, think back on your past successes and failures as a leader. This kind of introspective inventory can yield some powerful insights. What do you need to stop doing? What do you need to do more of? What do you need to start doing?
5. Understand your habits. Blind spots are not necessarily weaknesses—they can also be habits or instinctive reactions to situations. For example, do your workload and stress cause you to interrupt people in meetings in order to speed up things? As Tom Peters shows in this video, most managers are 18-second listeners. If this describes you, work on developing more patience. It will enhance your interpersonal skills and improve your leadership effectiveness.
6. Place a high priority on relational skills. In Winning With People: Discover The People Principles That Work For You Every Time, John C. Maxwell states a simple, but powerful truth: People can usually trace their successes and failures to relationships in their lives. Every time something good or something difficult has happened to you, you can most likely point it back to some relationship you had. Studies show that only 15 percent of a person’s success is determined by job knowledge and technical skills, and 85 percent is determined by an individual’s attitude and ability to relate to other people. As Maxwell observes, many leaders have big relational blind spots. For example, some individuals may come across as arrogant, stomping on people in their quest to achieve results. They may not be aware of the need to curb their arrogance until it’s too late. Others may not show much warmth and fail to pick up on the emotional clues that others give them. Make it a priority to develop healthy interpersonal skills.
7. Consider the downside of your strengths. It’s a known fact that our gifts, taken to the extreme, can be liabilities. For example, one of your strengths might be that you are prudent in your decision-making. But what you view as caution, taken to the extreme, might result in fear of risk taking. In the long run, this can work against you. You may pride yourself in being a visionary, but taken to the extreme, you may bounce off in too many directions, frustrating others on the team by switching gears too often. List all your strengths, and reflect on how they manifest themselves in your leadership style. If you need help in this area, work with a mentor or coach. Consider asking your constituents for feedback. We rise as a leader when we have the courage to ask, “How are my actions affecting performance?”
8. Take an assessment to identify your blind spots. The Reiss Motivation Profile is a comprehensive, psychological assessment of what motivates us. It identifies 16 basic desires that will give you insight on why you do what you do and will help you identify your blind spots. For example, the desire for independence can end up being a blind spot when a leader refuses to admit that he can’t do it all by himself. A quick, online assessment can be accessed at Find Your Blind Spot Now.