Vol. 10, No. 9 – June 28, 2010

June 28, 2010


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. The DNA Of Failure

Entrepreneurs share many positive personality traits — such as passion, persistence, and intuition — that help them to grow their businesses. But businesses also can implode, and CEO coach Stephen Baum says such failures can also usually be traced back directly to the leader’s behaviour. On :amanet.org, he lists six categories of after-the-fact excuses:

  • Ignorance: The leader insists, “I did not know.” Or: “I wish I had asked. I would have acted differently if I had known.” The entrepreneur says: “Nobody thought to tell me.” Or: “They told me but there wasn’t enough evidence to make me a believer.”
  • Incompetence: Here the entrepreneur might say, “I knew, but I did not understand.” Or: “I did not foresee the consequences.”
  • Insouciance: “Sure I knew,” the leader might explain. “But I really didn’t take it seriously until it was too late.” Or: “I thought it wouldn’t get serious.”
  • Cowardice: The lament is, “I knew, understood, and cared but did not have the courage to act.” Taking action would have meant overruling the recommendations of advisors or colleagues, or putting funds at risk.
  • Arrogance: Here it’s “I knew, understood, cared and had the courage to make the tough choice — and believed I could get away with the path I chose. We were on a roll. We could do anything. Who did they think they were to question me?”
  • Malice: In this case it’s “I knew, understood, cared and had the courage to act, but my personal agenda came first.” That’s arrogance plus a lack of integrity.

2. Sharpen Your Models

In his popular book Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey’s seventh habit was “sharpen your saw.” The message was to keep practising our craft, and get better at what we do.

Entrepreneur Rajesh Setty suggests we adopt an updated version of that habit: Sharpen your models. We all have models of how things work — what works and what doesn’t — and often they are outdated.

We have models for how to get a job, how to make a sale, how to build a brand, and how to find out what our customers want. “Take any significant thing that you are doing and you will notice that you will base it on a model that you learned or created on your own,” he writes on RajeshSetty.com. “In the new world, the models that work have changed. Working hard on models that are obsolete won’t make them work.”

How do we find those new models? Some people can figure it out by themselves. But the rest of us will need help. There are other people who have figured out what the new models are. He says your job is to “seduce” them and be an “opportunity” for them so that they start sharing the models with you. Find mentors to shepherd you through this process.

3. The Power Of A Guarantee

When Cyrus Hall McCormick invented the world’s first mechanical reaper, farmers were unsure it would help them despite the great benefits it offered, and for the first nine years sales were virtually nil. When he offered a written, money-back guarantee, however, sales immediately skyrocketed.

RainToday.com Contributing Editor Michael McLaughlin says if your sales are languishing, you should follow that same principle. He notes that includes professional services firms, which often have an implied guarantee anyway. After all, if they have an unhappy client, they will try to remedy the situation. So why not offer the guarantee up front, where it can do you some good?

He adds that you should know your clients well enough to judge when a guarantee will be helpful and when it isn’t. Make the guarantee simple and unconditional for them: No excuses, fine print, or legalese.

4. Watch The Money

Money signals what we believe. “If you work for a non-profit and you don’t give money to charity, what exactly are you doing in this job?” asks Seth Godin. “I’ve met some incredibly generous people in the charitable world, but I can also report that a huge number of people — even on the fundraising side — would happily cross the street and risk a beating in order to avoid giving $100 to a cause that’s not their own. And the shame of it is that this inaction on their part keeps them from experiencing the very emotion that they try so hard to sell.”

Similarly, he notes on Seth’s Blog: “An ad agency that won’t buy ads, a consultant who won’t buy consulting, and a waiter who doesn’t tip big — it’s a sign, and not a good one.”

5. Zingers

  • William Green, chairman and CEO of Accenture, says people who are successful are those who ask for help. That means you have to get people in your organization to believe that asking for help is a sign of strength, and not weakness. That’s a huge task, he admits, but it starts by challenging people to raise their game, as opposed to criticizing them, which just makes them raise their defences. (Source: The New York Times)
  • With so much swirling around you every day, before the end of your workday ask: In what two or three areas did I finish something today? (Source: Productivity Touchpoint From The Womack Company)
  • Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has basic, primal needs at the bottom of the pyramid and higher-level needs like belonging and self-actualization at the top. But Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, says for his company the bottom of the pyramid of employee needs — the prime reason his firm gets 900 applicants for every job opening — is that it’s a green business, and idealistic young people are drawn to doing good works. The next level up is job security, which comes because it’s not a public company putting shareholders before employees. At the top: The employees can make above-average wages. (Source: Inc.com)
  • Entrepreneur and columnist Penelope Trunk has 650 connections on LinkedIn. But she considers it a myth to say that LinkedIn itself is good for networking. “Networks are built on relationships, which grow from conversation. LinkedIn is not for conversations. So you need to go elsewhere to build your network,” she advises. A network still needs networking. (Source: Brazen Careerist)
  • If you’re selling food as a main line of business, or even if it’s just to attract people to an event you’re holding, your ads probably emphasize taste. But research by Ryan Elder and Aradhna Krishna found that when ads mention multiple senses — smell, texture, sight, and sound — it leads to higher taste perception than ads featuring an appeal only to taste. (Source: ScienceDaily.com)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:
To Make Strategy Is To Choose

Question: What’s the most important aspect of strategy?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter replies:

I’m tempted to reply, not totally flippantly, execution of that strategy.

McGill University’s leading thinker on strategy, Henry Mintzberg, might say the most important thing is not so much getting your top people in a room analyzing trends and making big picture decisions, but being alert to your surroundings and allowing strategy to bubble up, as employees at all levels in your organization see opportunities worth pursuing.

But my answer would be the most important thing in strategy is choice. That traces back to Harvard University Michael Porter’s insistence that strategy involves choice. Too often, we try to avoid picking between two options (or three or four options) and instead lump them into a package, trying to be all things to all people with our grandiose strategy.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. You see it all around us. Watch Canadian Tire, Loblaws, and Shoppers Drug Mart all trying to add new product lines — increasingly, they become less distinguishable from each other and more like Wal-Mart. Restaurants keep extending their food offerings, so that dishes like Pad Thai seem available everywhere these days. But those big companies grew because they made some choices, had some specialties. And so did those restaurants.

In his newsletter, advertising wizard Roy H. Williams recently pointed to a fitness centre, Curves, that became the fastest growing franchise in history despite excluding half the population as potential members. Martin, revered for its guitars, won’t make electric instruments — just acoustic. A toy store, Geppetto’s Workshop, excludes anything made of plastic or requiring batteries. The Heart Attack Grill seems to reject any food that’s good for you, avidly promoting its Bypass burgers, Flatliner fries, no-filter cigarettes, and Jolt soft drink.

It’s scary to make a choice in strategy — to be a specialist, or even if you’re not a specialist, to plunk your resources of money and effort into a minimum of strategic choices rather than jumping on every great (and not-so-great) idea that comes forth. But if you make a choice, your brand is sharper. Your execution is sharper, because you haven’t bitten off more than you can handle.

So next time you finish a strategy session, ask yourself whether you really made some hard choices.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:
Planning Assumptions

With clients anxious to confirm their strategic plans before summer, our May-June period has been jammed with facilitating stakeholder consultations and planning sessions. Last week we were encouraged with this email feedback from a board chair: “I’ve been in many similar sessions and your approach to consensus building and goal setting was impressive. Much accomplished in a short space of time.”

One of the 8020Info tools that sparked this comment we call a Planning Assumptions exercise. When a board comes together, the directors often bring very different and unspoken assumptions about how the future will unfold. Where one may think the staff are burdened, another sees misdirected effort. Where one sees a strong reputation or brand, another sees gaps in the profile. Where one sees a future of danger and risk, another sees opportunity — different assessments and different logics, leading implicitly to conflicts on the best choices to make for the future.

Conflict can be good, but let’s understand the reasoning. To put everyone on the same page prior to strategic planning, we prepare a list of short declarative statements that could form the basis for their future planning, asking participants to agree or disagree with them. This technique surfaces different views on the forces for change, and their consequences, before getting down to business. The usually animated discussion that follows helps to set up a great decision-making platform.


8020Info helps teams develop, communicate and implement their marketing 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

“Patience is the best remedy for every trouble.”

— Titus Maccius Plautus