Vol. 11 No. 17 – December 12, 2011

December 11, 2011


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. The Unplanning Approach

When we start a new business or social agency – or launch a new product or program – we are careful to take time to plan in detail. But consultants Ian Sanders and David Sloly argue that sometimes there is virtue in an unplanning approach.

They write on ChangeThis Manifestos:  “The problem with writing a fixed plan is that you can get stuck in amber. You get so bogged down with hypotheticals, financial modelling and revenue projections that your cool business idea gets stuck in a spreadsheet and the light never goes green. Instead of focusing on making your business idea happen, you end up suffering from analysis paralysis: The number one killer of all great business ideas.”

But we persist, believing a plan will guarantee success in executing even though, they note, you can’t predict how things will look in just five months time, let alone five years. Right now, organizations have to be agile to succeed, prepared to rethink and reinvent what they do and how they do it.

 So try their unplanning approach:

  • Take action: Unplanning is about moving from a passive to active mindset. Get used to making quick decisions, focus on outcomes and get your product or service out there. Do something!
  • Test it: Don’t test your idea on a spreadsheet; test it live in the marketplace. Launch a prototype, and learn from what transpires. 
  • Be agile: Be open to change and flexible enough to grasp random opportunities that come your way.

2. The Emperor’s New Internet Clothes

Advertising guru Roy H. Wilson says he feels like the little boy in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Emperor’s New Clothes when he discusses Internet darlings Facebook and Twitter.

He notes on his Monday Morning Memo that the first Internet buzzword was “eyeballs.” Any site that could generate a high number of unique visitors was considered overflowing with eyeballs and a success. “But eyeballs didn’t translate into dollars unless you delivered a message to the brain behind those eyeballs that was judged to be highly relevant and sufficiently credible,” he notes. 

Then came “going viral.” But that also faded away, as most companies didn’t have messages with the essential word-of-mouth triggers.

Now it’s Facebook and Twitter. “Facebook promises hyper-targeting but this has been the promise of every media since the invention of advertising. Newspapers have been divided into sections for nearly a century,” he says. Twitter is a quick way to blurt 140 characters to whomever will give you a moment’s attention, but for most companies it’s not highly effective.

He recalls a client who diverted some of his ad budget into a country club membership, on the premise he could sell product on the golf course. He didn’t, but had a good time golfing every Tuesday. 

“Make time for the things that give you pleasure. Facebook is a country club membership. If connecting on Facebook is your thing, go for it. But please, let’s not pretend it’s the highest and best investment of your time,” he concludes.

3. Take Time For A Talent Review

If you’re going to execute on your strategy, you need the right talent in the right places. So as you prepare for the New Year, organize a talent review.

Consultant Amy Wilson, on WilsonInsight.com, advises that the process starts with the leadership team discussing business initiatives critical to success in the coming year (or years).  Highlight important leadership roles and staffing vulnerabilities. 

With that backdrop, move on to assessing individuals. What are each individual’s strengths?  What are their interests? Are they a fit for a new initiative or better suited where they are?  Should they be groomed for a future opportunity?  “Over the course of the conversation, the leaders get on the same page with what matters to the business and what’s needed by the business,” she notes.

Expect disagreements, as team members may fear losing a protégé or compete for choice mentoring assignments. But transparent discussion makes execution of your strategy more likely. 

4. No Time For Marketing?

Marketing consultant Drew McLellan says in his Marketing Minute that a common theme in the conversations he has with business owners is that they don’t have the time to consistently market their business.

Too busy.

Too busy to send out a customer newsletter, attend an important trade show, or update their web site.

But when he asks if they have time to serve their clients, they say, “Of course. I have to stay in business.” Ditto, when he asks if they have time to send out bills.

So they find time to do what’s necessary, he points outs: “It’s that you don’t consider marketing a necessity to stay in business.  Now that’s a very different conversation.”

5. Zingers

  • Business advisors Linda Hill and Kent Lineback ask: When is the last time you asked the group you manage and the individuals in it this simple question, “What can I do to help you be more effective?” (Source: Harvard Business Review Blogs)  
  • Shakespeare wrote in Measure For Measure: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” Enrique Salem, CEO of Symantec, uses that quote in his company’s advanced leadership class to send a message: “You’ve got to take some chances. You’ve got to take some risks, and sometimes things don’t work out, but you’ve got to go for it.” (Source: New York Times)  
  • To stay calm under pressure, Susie Michelle, founder of Momscape.com, tries to imagine the problem facing her as a knot, with the knot clinching tighter if she panics and pulls frantically on the ends. Instead, she must adopt a singular focus, loosening one strand at a time. Another technique she recommends in such situations: Think of someone who is unflappable, and imagine what that person would do. (Source: Dumb Little Man)  
  • Careers expert Andrea Levit warns against unnecessarily pointing out flaws in others. It’s not your responsibility to ensure perfect conduct by colleagues, so even if you normally pay obsessive attention to detail or feel morally outraged about an issue, let it go. Unless your action can prevent a grievous mistake it’s not worth the potential damage to your reputation. (Source: Lifehack.org)  
  • The easiest way to describe your product or service is to outline how it’s different from the competition, entrepreneur Seth Godin says, and that’s the approach we typically take. But your prospects have another option besides choosing between you and your competitors: doing nothing. So don’t neglect to talk about why you made the product or service in the first place, and the benefits it offers. (Source: Seth’s Blog)  

6. Q&A with 8020Info:  HolidayReading 

Question: I’d like to curl up with an enjoyable book about business or organizations this holiday season. Anything to suggest?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

If it’s pure reading pleasure you want, I’d recommend the Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs. It’s a doorstopper of a book, 571 pages before bibliographical notes and index, but I wasn’t impatient or bored at any point when I was reading it — the time flew away.

This is not a technology book; it’s an engrossing character study and portrait of a career. Jobs’s accomplishments are larger than life, but he was also a larger than life individual, who in anecdote after anecdote shared by the author shows how to be a leader and in anecdote after anecdote how not to be a leader. At times you want to throttle Jobs for his outrageous behaviour, notably his treatment of other human beings. But when you see the allegiance they had to him — even after being brutalized — and what they accomplished, it makes you pause. The book is easy to read, touches the emotions, and forces you to think throughout about leadership.

Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, also has many accomplishments to his credit, including (like Jobs) coming back to the helm when his company was floundering. His book, Onward, is also a pleasure to read, as he tells about the turnaround he led, explaining his vision and tactical execution of the strategy that evolved from his beliefs and the company’s situation.

Fables make for enjoyable holiday reading, and this year three caught my attention as being better than the norm: The Secret Letters Of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Toronto success coach Robin Sharma, which offers nine insightful letters on being a better human being at work and outside of work; Leadership Rules by consultant Chris Widener on how to become the leader you want to be by following the formula of a fictional football coach; and The Seed by Jon Gordon on finding purpose and happiness in life.

Finally, Drowning In Oil by Loren Steffy is an absorbing journalistic case study of the folly that led to the BP oil disaster.

Other books may provide more explicit lessons on how to run your organization better or improve your personal performance, but if you want some easier holiday reading with an organizational message, those should do the trick.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:  2011 Shout Out

It’s been a busy year jammed with fascinating projects, and we’d just like to say thanks to those special people, our clients, with whom we’ve had a chance to collaborate in 2011, helping them to achieve their strategy development, research/consultation and communications goals. Best wishes of the holiday season from all of our team to:

  • Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
  • Chien Noir Bistro
  • City of Kingston— Cultural Services
  • Community Network of Specialized Care
  • Downtown Kingston! BIA
  • Frontenac Community Mental Health and Addiction Services
  • Frontenac CFDC (Community Futures Development Corporation)
  • Frontenac County
  • Fairmount Home (FrontenacCounty)
  • Frontenac Integrated Community Sustainability Plan
  • K3C Community Counselling
  • Kawartha Lakes CFDC (Community Futures Development Corporation)
  • Kingston Economic Development Corporation (Convention Centre Feasibility Review)
  • Kingston Frontenac Public Library
  • KFL&A Public Health — Healthy Communities
  • KingstonPolice
  • Lafarge (Bath)
  • Loyalist Township (Recreation Dept)
  • Marine Museum of  the Great Lakes
  • McMaster University Advancement
  • Ontario College Advancement
  • Ontario Diabetes Regional Coordination Centres
  • Prince Edward County (Economic Development)
  • Providence Care Inpatient Rehab
  • QUASR (Queen’s University Administrative Systems Replacement) Project
  • Queen’s Bachelor of Fine Arts Program
  • Queen’s Department of Family Medicine (Primary Care Project)
  • Queen’s Learning Commons
  • Queen’s School of Religion
  • Region9 Tourism Organization — The Great Waterway
  • St. Lawrence Parks Commission
  • Theatre Kingston
  • Township of Laurentian Valley
  • Township of Leeds and The Thousand Islands
  • Township of South Frontenac
  • University Hospitals Kingston Foundation

We look forward to working with you in 2012.


8. Closing Thought

“Wisdom is divided into two parts: (a) having a great deal to say, and (b) not saying it.”

— Anonymous