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February 2015

9 posts from January 2015

Tips for networking online with people you haven't met

Tq131001sdUsing Twitter and Facebook to create strong relationships with people you've never met is much more challenging than people realize. (LinkedIn is easier because it stays on professional topic 90% of the time.) I once offended someone I really admire by trying to be funny on Twitter. Two years later, I still wince when I think about it, and she offered me no opportunity to apologize... just decided I was a troll. Fortunately, she didn't share her opinion with anyone else (that I can tell). 

Mark Suster has published an excellent list of tips on Inc., linked below, although I don't agree about trying to be funny on Twitter anymore. 

On thing that he doesn't mention is the importance of sharing the good stuff you see. Someone who's working hard to increase their influence deeply appreciates it when you share their work, especially if you add a compliment. 

Inc.: How to Build Online Relationships Into Meaningful Networks, 2015-Jan-26 by Mark Suster

Figuring out how to engage is tricky. You want to be respectful. You want to say something informed. You want to toe the line between friendly public comment and being smothering.


Defining a value proposition with meaningful differentiation

After earning an MBA, after spending 30 years reading about business strategy, after dozens of seminars and webinars and coaching sessions, business educators find it hard to stump me. 

In my struggle to market Steady CRM, my value proposition is an approximation, nothing that's providing any traction yet. Potential customers nod, but they do not buy. Harvard B-School teacher Frank Cespedes has great advice for honing our value propositions (see below). 

His "invisible differentiation" may not be the only problem I have, but it's the only problem I can address immediately... I'm confident that better customer relationship management reduces marketing expenses... I just don't have all my stories lined up, YET.  Tq130528sf

Harvard Business Review: Any Value Proposition Hinges on the Answer to One Question, 2014-Jan-13 by Frank V. Cespedes

[If you plan to sell it for a premium, make sure] ...your product or service provides better performance on attributes that are important to target customers and for which they are willing to pay a premium. This approach must continually avoid the following pitfalls:

  • Meaningless or false differentiation: the points of superiority are unimportant to customers or based on a false presumption of superiority.
  • Uneconomic or invisible differentiation: customers are unwilling to pay for additional performance or are unaware of the difference.
  • Unsustainable differentiation: the product or service features are imitated over time.

Putting ourselves in the place to be creative

As a creative professional, I have struggled to find a place to work where my creativity is supported. If I had seen myself as a creative when I started my career, it might not have been so challenging. But I knew that I was not an artist, nor a writer, nor even a software developer, so the right career path was elusive. I have never fit into any pigeonhole. 

The turning point for my self-image was the birth of Fast Company magazine, which profiles professionals like myself who develop business ideas, not artistic ideas. In the 1990's I ran a local readers' club for Fast Company magazine, and through that club I met Durwin Sharp and Rolf Smith of the Virtual Thinking Expedition. They helped me understand my creative process and how I could work with other people to realize my ideas.  Tq-120910-dm

Over the last fifteen years I've gone back and forth trying to figure out if I can found my own company or find a place where I can contribute from my strengths. I still haven't figured it out but I am discovering more about what makes an environment that supports creativity. 

NoahBrier's Creativity Requires Networks points to this old Kevin Kelley article that I missed: Scenius, of Communal Genius, which reminds me of John Hagel's Creation Spaces. (The last one is a Harvard Business Review article, and in case you missed it they have a great new free membership program.) 

All these articles point out that creativity flourishes where people can share and support each others ideas, while friendly competition ensues and the outsiders (non-creatives) tolerate unusual behavior (like job-hopping). I hope we can build a "creation space" in Houston. We have a few companies, like Blinds.com, which make it happen for their employees, but we have a lot more companies wielding non-compete agreements and enforcing corporate conformity. The preference of Houstonians for doing business with buddies and scratching each other's backs is also a hindrance. But we have a core of wild-and-crazy types who are finding it easier and easier to get together. 


Why more leads to less, viewed economically

Sometimes there's something you know but you need to hear it in a new way, in a way that it sticks out better in your thinking. Sometimes you need to hear it several different ways until you think, I KNOW this... why don't I act like I know it??  Tq131118db

I bought Brooks Palmer's Clutter Busting a couple of years ago, and it helped. Now I'm reading about Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. But what's really sticking out are the remarks by economics journalist Tim Harford, who rephrases things into the format of behavioral economics. 

1. Status quo bias: the tendency to let things stay. When my kids were teenagers I fought this at the doorway, occasionally refusing to let things, especially things they had received, but didn't really want, even come into the house. 'Cause I knew they'd stay forever. 

2. Diminishing returns: Classic 'too much of a good thing.' Especially clothes and books. This is hard to combat unless we use a one-in, one-out rule. 

3. Opportunity cost: The more we have, the more we've got to take care of. Even if we don't buy more storage space, we still pay the price... 

The Undercover Economist: Why more and more means less, 2015-Jan-6 by Tim Harford

...there’s also the cost of being unable to appreciate what you have because it’s stuck at the bottom of a crate underneath a bunch of other things you have...


More on leadership authenticity: pick your followers

The announcement that the NY Times is discontinuing the "You're the Boss" column now that it's originator, Loren Feldman, is leaving... sent me into a little panic. So I went careening through recent posts to get what inspiration I could before it fades from memory.  Tq131219fd

Tech company founder Rebekah Campbell talked about wanting to hire a talented guy despite his exhibiting sexist behavior during the interview. That story led me to think about my own leadership challenges. 

As the co-founder of the non-profit alumni association Columbia Club of South Texas, I urged the other founders that we set up a 'self-sustaining' board where board members vote in new and replacement directors, rather than relying on members to vote. One of the side benefits of this strategy is that the board learns to evaluate new members as potential teammates. 

My challenge is the same as Rebekah's which is to admit that I can't always lead a contributor to success. Sometimes I have to recognize a mis-match between my leadership style and how the volunteer wants to contribute. As the leader of a tech startup struggling to find its sustainability, she cites the importance of authority, but even if people admire your leadership, they can drain all your energy with well-meaning misunderstanding. We have to be careful and recruit for diversity but with an eye for compatibility. 

NY Times: Following Up on the Job Candidate Who Was 'Checking Out the Waitress', 2014-Nov-3 by Rebekah Campbell

“It’s your business, and if someone isn’t respecting you then let them go. Don’t try to lead from the shadows.”

You’re right! I wonder if women find this approach more challenging than men do – I know I do. I want people to be happy and I adjust myself to make relationships work. It takes confidence to hold your ground, but I suspect that’s the only way to establish authority.


Be authentically evolving as a leader

When leaders are admonished to 'be authentic' they sometimes translate that as 'stick to your knitting' or 'to thine own self be true.' Actually, leaders must always aspire to being better at what they do, and that means changing.  Tq130711fd

HBR.org: The Authenticity Paradox, 2015-Jan by Herminia Ibarra

When we look only within for answers, we inadvertently reinforce old ways of seeing the world and outdated views of ourselves. Without the benefit of what I call outsight—the valuable external perspective we get from experimenting with new leadership behaviors—habitual patterns of thought and action fence us in. To begin thinking like leaders, we must first act: plunge ourselves into new projects and activities, interact with very different kinds of people, and experiment with new ways of getting things done. Especially in times of transition and uncertainty, thinking and introspection should follow experience—not vice versa. Action changes who we are and what we believe is worth doing.