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8 posts from November 2019

Watching the Charming Charlie comeback

Charming Charlie is reviving. Social media has been activated. The new store locations have been announced. A new web site collects together all the positive press that founder Charlie Chanaratsopon has had in the past, but the e-commerce web site is not available yet. The projected launch date for both physical retail and online sales is early 2020. 

A few months ago, Chanaratsopon did an interview with the Houston Chronicle after he was approved to buy the intellectual property and customer database at the bankruptcy auction. He stated that online sales will be more important, and physical storefronts will be fewer and half the size of the old ones. They may also create 'pop-up,' or temporary stores. 

Chanaratsopon is banking on customer loyalty and data to drive the reboot. 

Houston Chronicle: Founder plans to resurrect Charming Charlie after trademark sale, 2019-Sep-16 by Paul Takahashi

“Charming Charlie has over 10 million passionate and brand-loyal customers,” Chanaratsopon said. “In this age of retail, we still see an opportunity for the brand to thrive in the online ecosystem.”


How to be a better consultant

I've decided to spend more time concentrating on newsletter and trying to find consulting gigs in the newsletter arena. So I'm trying to find role models, and Tom Critchlow has an amazing approach. 

The Strategic Independent: Yes! and... 2019-Nov-18 by Tom Critchlow

Who’s been in a meeting and been disgusted with people spouting things that are half-true, made-up or masks over the real truth?

There’s a fine line between reacting to a situation in the room and bullshitting.

As a consultant this is especially hard to avoid. Your default mode of operating is the liminal space between industries, businesses and markets. A few times a year I’m forced to learn something new from scratch. This forces us to work in spaces where we’re often the least knowledgeable about a specific business (even if we are experts in the industry… And sometimes we’re experts at a discipline but neither knowledgeable about the business or the industry).

So here’s a little guide to avoiding bullshit:

  • Immerse yourself in the core business mechanics, you should be able to draw a diagram explaining the core business revenue & profit function reasonably well. The more abstraction here the more you risk a fundamental mis-understanding and straying into BS.

  • Become a language chameleon - study and adopt the language, acronyms and buzzwords of the client’s business. If they call it “earned marketing” you should too. If their CMS is called PinkCloud you call it that too. Specificity allows you to avoid confusion and helps you distinguish between the client’s CMS and the market’s CMS (for example).

  • Speak clearly and within your limits. Ask for clarification on points that don’t seem to make sense. No pretending. Don’t adopt the language too quickly! (ha, see how hard this is?)

  • Ask stupid questions. Ask questions about company history, about alternative approaches, about failed previous ideas. Just because people at the client choose not to talk about obvious things doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

  • Defend your ideas but not your points. Be willing to defend your ideas even if some data points get challenged. It’s very common that the number or stat you’re using to support your point will be wrong but that the broader idea still holds. Don’t concede the idea but also don’t try and put muscle behind the numbers - accept they’re wrong but keep pressing on the idea to see where you get.

  • When you get challenged pull out some counter-factuals - when someone is claiming that your data is wrong challenge them with proving the opposite.

  • Keep your eye on the prize for business outcomes, not intellectual debates. Executives are fond of theorizing and debating ideas that stray into the get into the abstract - you can play this game a little but try to be the one to ground conversations in reality.

  • Read widely - analogy is the core of cognition. Don’t be afraid to source things from different industries. This is the kind of cross-industry vantage point that clients find hard to get internally.

These are all ways to avoid bullshitting - but unfortunately there’s one simple way to avoid bullshit - by being critical.

It’s far easier to retreat to the critical, negative position and say why things won’t or can’t work. Except… this is a mistake.

Being positive and optimistic is far harder but more effective. 


Learning to use social media wisely, with Amy McGee

I've known Amy for a long, long time, although I haven't seen her face-to-face in years. She used to send the most fabulous emails--she probably still does--but I see her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram now. 

What I enjoy about following Amy is that her use of social media has evolved over the years. If I had faced what she faced a few times, I'd have thrown in the towel. I'll never be as outgoing and open-hearted as she is, but I hope I follow her in using social media to enrich our lives. 

Go follow Amy somewhere: 


Visiting The C. Baldwin hotel, which commemorates discrimination against women

Yesterday I attended a networking meeting at a hotel in downtown Houston called "C. Baldwin." Since the massive renovation, the space and furnishings are quite beautiful. I really enjoyed meeting everyone with Sesh. However, the hotel disappoints me in several ways. 

  1. It makes me feel cheap. Everything seems over-the-top expensive. At The Houstonian, I can see value in the money I might spend, but at "C.Baldwin," I feel pressured to throw money around for show. 

  2. The name is from an important woman in Houston's history, Charlotte Baldwin Allen, the wife of one of the city's founders. When her husband left town (permanently), she had to manage the family business, and because women weren't allowed to sign business contracts, she signed "C. Baldwin." So they're commemorating discrimination. 

  3. The designers try to make it 'honor Houston,' but it feels like Dallas. There's a big image on the wall in the reception area that shows Charlotte's face imposed over a map of Houston, but it's apparently not a work of art because there's no credit to the artist. Why couldn't they have thrown some money to a local artist to do something special??? 

Anyway, I like all their decorative moss. I will be referring to this hotel as The Charlotte. I expect they will have to make some changes. 




Do you imagine yourself possessing art?

When I was just a kid, I was eager to buy art. For me, that meant getting cheap junk at the county fair, as long as it was attractive and handmade. My mother usually bought reproductions at home furnishing stores, but I preferred the real thing, even if it was lower quality. 

Many people see art as unaffordable, but if you open your eyes to everything 'handmade' (even if made on a computer or in a machine shop), you'll see so many opportunities to support artists. Most of these pieces are functional. And if they get a little tattered or broken, we shouldn't feel guilty about throwing them away. The money we spent on them was valuable to the artist, even if the art doesn't survive long. 

Medium: Why do people buy art?, 2014-May-9 by Amrita Chandra

People didn’t recognize themselves as art buyers. The art establishment has done a number on people, painting a picture of an art collector as someone who dresses in black, spends their evenings in minimalist white cube galleries and drops thousands of dollars on pieces at the drop of a hat. 


How to be a pragmatic dreamer, from Tanvir Aman

Here's a really good trick for making sure that you're chasing the right dream. Think about something you'd love to do, but ALWAYS ask does it solve a problem? Whose problem? How would that work? 

Tanvir has a cool new company called Dunyha, an innovative real estate firm that integrates home sharing and home ownership. Check it out: 

Kivo Daily: Movers and Shakers Interview with Tanvir Aman, 2019-Nov-1 by Dillon Kivo

Kivo: What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

Aman: I wish someone had told me that rather than just focusing on what you are passionate about, try to find a way to connect it to a real-life problem. It’s great that you have a great idea, but if you find a way to use it to contribute to your neighborhood, community, society, your life, or anyone else’s, then you are onto something considerable.

We all should be pragmatic dreamers. Thinking about what we’re passionate about is the first step. The second is trying to figure out which problems we can solve and how they fit into real-life, how to connect our ambition with reality to make a tangible difference.