Vol. 10, No. 13 – Sept. 20, 2010

September 20, 2010


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Redefining Failure

If you miss a sale, you will generally have a feeling of failure. But if a customer calls with a complaint, do you also see that as a failure?

Marketing advisor Seth Godin says you should. Indeed, he argues that every day some of your company’s resources and assets go to waste. “The permission your best customers have given you to market to them is abused when you send them unwanted pitches. The momentum you’ve worked so hard to create for your new product line is squandered because your marketers are busy focusing on other things. These are failures, failures as urgent as if wheelbarrows of cash were burning unchecked in the parking lot of your building,” he writes in Harvard Business Review.

Here are a few types of failure that he says may be stalking your firm:

  • Design failure: If your product or service is misdesigned, then people won’t understand or purchase it.
  • Failure of opportunity: If your assets are poorly deployed, ignored, or decaying, then it’s as if you are destroying them.
  • Failure of trust: If you take shortcuts in the pursuit of short-term profits you will waste stakeholders’ goodwill and respect.
  • Failure of will: If your organization prematurely abandons important work because of internal divisions or a temporary delay in market acceptance, you have failed.
  • Failure to quit: If your organization sticks with a mediocre idea or team too long because you lack the guts to create something better, that’s also failure.

2. Three Reasons Why You Need Pain

Usually we try to avoid pain. But self-development coach Curt Rosengren, writing on the U.S. News & World Report’s web site, offers three ways that pain can be positive for your career:

  • Pain is a catalyst: In an ideal world, we would always take steps that are in our best interest, and thus continually improve or fix the problem areas in our career. But uncertainty and fear can keep us stuck. “When the pain of what’s wrong gets intense enough, it can blast us out of that rut and into action,” he notes.
  • Pain is a warning bell: When our hand touches a hot stove, we know to pull it away. Similarly, when any experience hurts, it’s often an alarm telling us something needs to change. Of course, often we ignore it, playing the victim, and life becomes a series of alarm bells. When you act on the warning bell, the pain won’t immediately go away but it sets you in a positive direction. Over time, the cumulative effect of those positive steps can be huge.
  • Pain can challenge you to grow: The pain of unpleasant situations can push us to learn and grow in ways that we never would have otherwise.

So when you experience pain, ask what the pain is telling you, and how it can serve as a catalyst for positive change.

3. It’s The Connections, Not The Network

Michael Jordan may have been the greatest basketball player of all time, but if he didn’t get the ball, he wouldn’t have scored any points.

In that example lies an important lesson provided by Professor Jeffrey Ford on his blog: In a network era, we need to distinguish between the nodes and connections in networks.

A network is an interconnected system where “things” are represented by nodes and the connections between them are represented by “lines.” Nodes can be individuals, teams, groups, other organizations, or cities, for example. Lines are the connections between the nodes and include such things as communications, products, services, transactions, trust, and friendship.

“Success in an era of networks depends on managing the connections, not the nodes. When things don’t work, focus on the connections not the nodes. Trying to motivate people, for example, is focusing on nodes in the hope that they will deliver what they are supposed to,” he writes. An alternative is to focus on improving the connections, such as building trust or providing support. “It is a relatively simple shift, but it is incredibly powerful in terms of the results and outcomes you can produce.”

4. The Virtue Of Baby Steps

Organizations usually approach prospects expecting them to take a big leap and embrace the product or service offered. But consultant David Young sees virtue in offering your customers baby steps. Let them edge into a relationship, and allow them to see they can back away at any point. “If you have no baby steps, most of your potential customers will be quite hesitant to make the big leap,” he writes on brandingblog.com.

Some baby steps to consider: Samples, money-back guarantees, short engagements with no strings, and overnight test drives.

5. Zingers

  • Productivity writer Kevin Purdy says choose your most important task each day and give it priority over e-mail. Devote one hour to it before opening your e-mail box — even if you know there may be a missive in that inbox from your boss. (Source: Lifehacker.com)
  • Living in South Africa during apartheid as the son of a Canadian diplomat, Peter Schram learned when talking to Afrikaners that he didn’t have to agree with their viewpoint to understand it. Similarly, he says organizations are often confronted with opinions that radically differ from their own. It would be easy to dismiss those critics as crazy or ill-informed, but in the field of crisis communications, he stresses, you must look at an issue from every viewpoint, trying to understand why others hold a particular perspective and working to help better inform them. (Source: Communicationsunlimited.ca)
  • The secret to success, according to consultant George Torok, is doing little things consistently well over time. (Source: Motivational Speaker blog)
  • Sit down with at least one supplier every week and ask them for their thoughts on how you could improve your organization, your products or services, your technology or market intelligence in any way. What do they know about best practices in the industry that you don’t? (Source: The Donald Cooper Corporation Business Management Newsletter)
  • If you spend your day using the computer, personal technology columnist Amit Agarwal recommends the 20-20-20 rule to relax your tired eyes: Every 20 minutes take a break for at least 20 seconds in which you look at objects at least 20 feet from you. (Source: Labnol.org)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:
Exploring Contradictions

Question: Our company seems plagued by contradictions, like the desire for greater quality and reduced spending, or customizing our product while serving a mass market. What should we do?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter replies:

A good way to start is to downsize them in your mind from contradictions to tensions, breaking the belief that they can’t co-exist. Think of the yin-yang symbol, which emphasizes that opposites can co-exist in a healthy way, with each needing and having the seeds of the other.

Another visual to consider in these situations is a 2X2 matrix. Plot one contradiction — or, tension — on the x-axis and the other tension on the y-axis. This is a standard technique for strategy and operations, celebrated in a 2004 book, The Power of The 2×2 Matrix, by consultants Alex Lowy and Phil Hood.

A matrix can help you to explore the dilemmas in your situation. The authors suggest you look for ways to better understand your organization by developing 2×2 matrixes: “2×2 thinking recognizes the power in exploring competing forces. By intentionally constructing dilemmas, we challenge ourselves to think at a higher logical level,” they note. “Although dilemmas rarely feel good, they often contain the seeds of deeper understanding and a superior solution than we are otherwise capable of finding.”

Take quality and cost. When you plot it on a 2×2 matrix, you get four possibilities:

  • High quality and high cost
  • High quality and low cost
  • Low quality and low cost
  • Low quality and high cost

All are used by companies in marketing their products and services, although the final one would usually be a loser in a competitive market. If you take time to consider how you could operate under each scenario and what the appeal would be, you might find a new path to success. High quality and low cost may initially seem impossible, but some companies do manage to put together that formula.

The point is to not instinctively recoil at contradictions (tensions in my framework, and dilemmas in the words of those authors), but to see them as twin possibilities to be explored, finding the proper balance. And for that, the 2×2 matrix is a natural ally. Indeed, when you don’t have contradictions-tensions-dilemmas, you might want to worry; create some opposing points of view, and see what they tell you.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:
Being Authentic Online

Authenticity has always been at the core of a strong marketing effort. No matter how good the spin of a fisherman’s tale, no matter how pretty the picture with the “catch”, if the fish is found to be fake, we dismiss the fisherman and everything about the story.

Which also has some interesting implications for the public persona that individuals and organizations present in social media (Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, for example). Could it be that so many authentic leaders come from small towns because their close-knit social community put their public persona to the test daily? They learned early they had to be authentic. And it follows you.

A recent New York Times article described the example of Stacy Snyder, a 25-year-old teacher in training at a Pennsylvania high school who was let go when an old, “unprofessional” photo was discovered on her MySpace page. (It showed her at a party wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup, with the caption “Drunken Pirate.”)

In Delete:The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, cyberscholar Viktor Mayer-Schönberger points out the importance of “societal forgetting” and how society accepts that human beings evolve over time. A society in which everything is recorded, however, “will forever tether us to all our past actions, making it impossible, in practice, to escape them.”

The online world never forgets: better to be authentic than spin a “fishy” tale.


8020Info helps teams develop, communicate and implement their communications, research and strategic plans more effectively. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries at (613) 542-8020, or by email at watercooler@8020info.com.

8. Closing Thought                                                                 Top

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

— Jim Goodwin