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Bill and Leo’s Spiral of Habits

It started with Bill Gates and MS-DOS.

It ends with Leo from

Quite the odd couple, you’d think.

Until you read what they have in common.

Maybe then it will continue with you.

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Talking big, doing big

lunchtime escaping
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sam Judson

This post about goals at 37 Signals is chock full-o-gold.

Make note of the attitude shift that this post provokes, particularly the paragraph that starts “Hey, if Iâ??m going to stand on the podium of Le Mans…”

See how the sentence that talks about the future of 37 Signals changes EVERYTHING?

It changes what they do.

It changes how they do it.

And a lot more.

What’s your big goal? The Jets are taken.

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Solve a problem

People I read, work with, overhear, listen to, casually encounter (etc) seem to fall into roughly three camps regarding the current economy’s job situation:

  • The President (Governor, Mayor, City, County, State, whatever) should give me a job or create one for me.
  • The President (etc) should stay out of it and let natural market forces fix the economy – letting the chips falls where they may.
  • The President (etc) has little or no power over my personal economy. Only I can determine and exert any control over its condition.

As you might guess, I tend to fall in the third camp. Mostly, I have no patience for the interminable (and often pointless) wait required for options one and two. The rest comes from personal experience.

Rather than try to move you to another camp and thus change your worldview (a rather impossible task not unlike teaching a pig to sing), I’m just going to focus today’s yammering on those in the “I can determine and exert control” camp (the last one on the list).

The entrepreneurs among you will understand that. The rest, maybe you could consider it an interim solution to use until economy changes and creates a situation that fits your worldview.

The solution is really kinda simple: Solve the biggest, toughest problem you can find.

But don’t just solve it and keep moving. Solve it madly. Passionately. Do so as if you are the only one with enough lead (and expertise) to neutralize the Kryptonite that weakens Superman.

The natural question

The next natural question you might ask is going to be “So…what problem should I solve?”

That’s the hard part, of course. On the other hand, how should I know what the big hairy audacious must-solve-problem is in your business?

In some businesses, I could toss some suggestions out there, but I don’t claim to be Mister Wizard of your-market.

Look at it this way… If I can point it out from afar (and without your experience in the market), I’d be surprised. Why? Because it shouldn’t be quite so obvious for a newbie in your market to spot the all-encompassing, why-didn’t-we-think-of-that solution to the mega-problem you somehow managed to ignore.

On the other hand, maybe you’re too close. Maybe you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Oh yeah, those customers of yours

Those customer type folks can help you with that. What, you say? Ask CUSTOMERS? Yes, I know. Sacrilege, but try it anyhow.

Here are some questions that might help you shine a light on the problem you need to solve.

  • What are we making too difficult?
  • What part of your business would be (wildly?) profitable if you could just get past one challenge?
  • What is that challenge?
  • Is there an area of your business that we aren’t doing anything to help you with? What challenges you in that division?
  • If you could knock off one big-ticket-achievement that would make you a superstar in your market (or at your company), what would it be? What part(s) of that achievement do you think are beyond your reach? What if they weren’t (what you think is) beyond your abilities or resources?


Finally, don’t forget that customers quite often get stuck in that forest and trees situation as well.

They need help seeing that next big thing, or seeing past their current reality and into a whole different market or business. It’s common for me to find a business that has products or services that (could) reach well beyond their current market and existing customer base, they simply never considered those others. Likewise to find a business that has a business buried inside of it that’s just aching to get out and grow on its own.

Case in point: 3 million people didn’t write Apple and ask them to design the iPad. Likewise, Apple didn’t come up with the iPad by going to Best Buy and asking themselves what was missing from the shelves. They had to think hard about the retail customer they continually please. Just happened to turn out that the business customer likes it too.

What can you create that your customers never even considered, yet can’t do without? Thinking hard and asking way too many “What if” and “Why cant we” questions of yourselves, your market and your customers can yield the kind of answers that you might not trip over any other way. What would the leader in your market do?

And then…solve the problem(s) you find like nobody’s business.

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Do you scale?

Here They Are!! Part 3 (Come over!!!)

We humans don’t scale well.

We have to automate or delegate, either to another staffer, an assistant (virtual or otherwise), a contractor or whatever – or just not get some things done (which is OK, depending on the thing).

No matter how much effort you put into scheduling your time, managing your time, protecting yourself from interruptions, automating what can be automated and perhaps most importantly, eliminating what Dan Kennedy calls (among other things) “time thieves” from your life/work day, you will eventually reach a point where you can’t get more done.

Sometimes though, we don’t need to scale. Instead, we need to refine what we deliver.

Kennedy has something he calls a “ladder of ascension”, which is a fancy name for having products that are appropriate for many budgets and needs.

You can buy a $10 book from Dan or you can spend $20000 to have a dedicated day to meet him at his house and work on your business. As you might expect, there are steps (rungs of the ladder) in between.

The ladder

Most people who do what I do offer the same sort of ladder. For some people, a book or video (or even a blog) is enough. For others, coaching on a monthly basis. Still others request dedicated efforts ranging from a day to weeks/months.

Your time and resources limit how many of the last type you can handle, much less your attention to the other rungs of your product/service ladder.

The question to ask yourself is simple: Is your ladder missing any rungs?

Whether you run a retail store, a restaurant, a public relations firm or a mower repair shop, it’s important.

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Are you developing your staff into better people?

Creative Commons License photo credit: army.arch

Bell Telephone used to.

Today’s guest post from the NY Times illustrates how the old Bell Telephone showed incredible foresight in developing their management team, only to have it gutted by a short-term view of benefits.

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Two young ladies: A contrast in character and leadership

Year after year, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to watch young men turn from “typical 5th graders” into amazing young adult leaders. Because of that, examples of youth leadership in the news tend to get my attention.

Here’s a study in contrasts of leadership and character from two young ladies:

Got a reputation?

Earlier this week, actress Lindsay Lohan decided to sue E-Trade because they had the nerve to name a character with the same first name as hers in one of their baby commercials – and the baby just happened to be a “milkaholic”.

Lohan claims that the “milkaholic” baby was a jab at her substance abuse problems. Maybe it was and maybe there’s a lesson there about public figures, leadership, role models and so on. Just maybe.

An enterprising person or their agent might have contacted the California Milk Processor Board in order to leverage the alleged characterization into a fun, and probably popular, commercial for their “Got Milk?” campaign. But that didn’t happen. Too busy calling the lawyers to see a good opportunity, perhaps.

The shiny side of the coin

Later in the week, a client sent me a link to a leadership post about Megan, who convinced her big-time CEO dad that he needed to keep a commitment to run in a half-marathon, despite having a seriously overscheduled, busy executroid week.

Megan’s clearly a fine example of the ability of young people to lead. Her email was classic, post-on-the-wall stuff that every leader should read, file away and pull out once a month to review – just in case.

Now…think about your day. What example are you setting for the people around you?

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The size of the mountain doesn’t matter

A combination of events over the last couple of months has had me thinking more about the expectations we have for ourselves, our kids, our employees and holy moly, even our politicians.

First, Jim Rohn passed away.

Jim talked a lot about expectations and how delivery of them is on one person: you. I highly recommend Rohn’s stuff. While you can buy his books, videos, audio etc online, quite a lot can be found at no cost on his site and on YouTube.

Next, four of my Scouts attained the rank of Eagle on the same day, after progressing together in Scouting since the second grade.

Three of them had been Life Scouts (the last rank prior to Eagle) for over three years. They needed a little prodding to finish the last item or two on their checklist, but they all assumed they’d get it done. If nothing else, they figured their parents would pressure them to get it done. Note: They were right.

A tall, steep mountain

But a year ago, one of them just didn’t think he could get there. Not because he isn’t confident (he is), but because the mountain in front of him was so very tall.

A year ago, he was a Star Scout (and had been for some time). That means that he needed several merit badges in addition to finishing the requirements for the Life Scout rank, then he needed to spend six months actively providing senior leadership to the troop,  and finally had to come up with and complete an Eagle Scout service project.

All of that had to happen in about a year, and with a dose of reality, it had to happen in an environment that includes a job, his senior year of high school, cars, girls, school, skiing, hunting, a summer of fun (including traveling for a team sport) and everything else teenagers do these days.

The size of the mountain doesn’t matter much

One thing that I’ve found with folks young and not so young is that the size of the mountain in front of them rarely has anything to do with their ability to climb it.

What’s far more important is whether or not they THINK they can climb it.

Yeah, I know I’m teetering into the land of the touchy-feely. However, what folks think they can make happen clearly has a huge impact on what they accomplish.

For that one young man, it was easy to seem like Eagle wasn’t reachable because it was so far away.

All he needed was to see that *I* completely believed he could do it if he applied himself. I didn’t do the work, I didn’t give him any shortcuts, and I sure don’t deserve the credit, but that little tiny bump in the road could have kept him from getting there.

Once he believed he could get over it, he simply had to chip away at it till he was done.

You can’t do that

I wonder how many of those little bumps and “You can’t do that” comments employees, business owners and entrepreneurs run into and what accomplishments they prevent.

Some people would see a comment like that as a challenge. They’ll swing for the fences and complete the task with a flourish (think “Ricky Henderson”) as a way to say “Oh yeah? Take THAT. I *could* do it.”

Most business owners and entrepreneurs probably steamroll past that stuff or they wouldn’t be in those positions.

But not everyone is built that way. It might take a success or two to show some that they really can kick butt and take names.

I spend a lot of time with kids due to Scouts, swim team and other things I’m involved in. I sometimes see kids who are told they *are* great (whether they are or not). I see others who are encouraged to *be* great (or even better) and accomplish great things.

More kids need to be encouraged to BE great, whether they want to be a rocket scientist, a millwright or a statesman (“statesperson” sounds a little weird for me). We could use a few (hundred) *great* statesmen of both genders, in fact.

Just telling them they are great isn’t enough. They need mentors, like anyone else.

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Are you using your white hair too?

In the days before 9/11, our local airport (Glacier International aka FCA) had a mix of mostly Boeing 737/727, prop and regional jet traffic.

Since 9/11, most of our traffic other than flights to Minneapolis are regional jets or props. When I fly Delta to Salt Lake, for example, I’m usually flying some Delta Skywest regional jet (typically a Canadair model) that is codeshared with Delta.

Before much of the economy cratered over the last year, it wasn’t unusual to see two pilots in the cockpit of these regional jets that looked young enough to have just finished Rush Week at a local university.

Now, I don’t mean to put them down – after all, we always flew safely, never had an unprofessional effort by the pilots and the overall quality of the flight itself appeared no different than any other trip with more experienced pilots – still, there was always a comment or two by passengers when they saw a flight crew that looked like they had been shaving for less than 10 years (in the case of a male crewmembers).

With all the shakeup in the economy and airline industry, these regional jets are now being captained by what appear to be very experienced, mostly white-haired guys who are probably old enough to have flown combat in Vietnam.  As the airlines downsize the number of flights, experienced pilots get pushed down the system to the regional jets.

The smart thing that the airlines are doing – at least SkyWest – is pairing these experienced pilots with the younger pilots who were already flying with them. The ability to let these experienced folks mentor the younger pilots is huge – and it wasn’t something the airlines appeared to be doing prior to changes in the economy.

I talked with several passengers about this during my recent trip to Vegas and all of them found it not only smart business – but comforting to have 30+ years of experience in the cockpit instead of the assumption of 5 or 10 years – even if the younger pilot was doing the flying.

How does this relate to your business?

  • How are your new staff members learning the ropes? How are they getting “co-pilot” experience with the equivalent of your white-haired, experienced pilots?
  • Looking up into the cockpit and seeing a 50-ish white-haired guy brings confidence in the delivery of air travel without saying a word. For all we know, that guy had no more experience than the co-pilot, or came out of a 20 year retirement due to losses in the stock market and might have fewer regional jet flight hours than the young co-pilot. Didn’t matter, at least until we had the chance to find out more. What gives your customers’ confidence about your business’ ability to deliver with safety and high quality? What are you doing to show them the “white hair” or whatever it takes in your line of work?
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How do you keep up?

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How do you keep up?

I was speaking to a group of small business owners the other day about websites and (to their surprise) mobile technology and how it should affect their internet strategy – or at least, provoke them to have one.

After (probably) scaring them a bit, that was the last question I was asked: “How do you keep up?”

Meaning – how is a small business owner who has to deal with sales, marketing, managing their staff, sweeping the floor, doing the books, promoting their business on Talk Like a Pirate Day and 117 other things – how does THAT person keep up with all that stuff, let alone have their fingers on the pulse of all this new mobile technology, their website, etc?

And how do they manage to find the time to keep their website updated?

If you don’t, you’re training your customers to not visit it.

Additional question I might hear from coaching clients: How do I keep up with all that stuff, plus the things you suggest that I should be doing???

Short answer: You don’t keep up with it all. So don’t sweat it.

Long answer: If it was easy, anyone could do it. Keep reading.

But what provoked the question?

Perhaps the fear of the unknown or the huge amount of change I laid in front of them.


So how do you keep up?

You really don’t. One thing adds to another thing, adds to another thing.

That’s one of the reasons my email newsletter signs off with “Do at least one thing today to get, or keep, a client.”

Set aside a little bit of time every single day, just like you do to work out, play golf, relax with a hot cuppa and the paper, and so on.

Put this “one thing a day” time in your calendar. The earlier in the day, the better. That way the crisis of the moment doesn’t come along and knock you off the rails.

  • Maybe today you spend 15 minutes writing 2 blog posts, or an email for your email newsletter.
  • Or you contact (or delegate it) 1 customer a day who hasn’t spent money with you lately.
  • Or you contact your newest customer and ask them what they think about what you’re doing for them and why they chose you. Keep going in reverse order till you get to the customer you’ve had the longest.
  • Or you contact the customer you’ve had the longest and ask them why they still use you. Again, keep going in reverse order till you get to your first customer.
  • Or you read a chapter from a marketing, strategy, operations, social media (etc) book. Or a blog that offers similar assistance.

One thing a day. Same way you eat an elephant.

Then what?

If these things start getting traction, maybe they get more than 15 minutes a day. Maybe you hire someone to do them, or delegate them to a staffer you already have. Or you do less of the stuff that isn’t really having an impact. Or you automate what you can of the tasks that are now paying off. Or the ones you can’t stop doing that don’t appear to be making a difference.

Maybe you ask each department (if you have them) to do the same thing. Or you ask each of your employees.

Do one thing a day. 5 minutes, 15 minutes, whatever you can manage at first.

When you push water from 211 degrees F to 212 degrees F, amazing things happen.

One thing a day may be all it takes for your business to do the same kind of thing.

Once you spawn a culture of continuous improvement, hang on tight.

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*Which* fries do you want with that?

So I’m on Amazon to pick up a copy of “Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions: A Tactical Playbook for Managers and Executives“.

Like any good salesperson would, the Amazon cart reminds me…

“Wait! You need to add $5.23 to your order to qualify for FREE Super Saver Shipping”.

Fair enough. But what would fit that bill?

Amazon shows me a few things in my “Saved items — to buy later” list and it also shows me some things that other people bought when they bought this book.

But it doesn’t show my Amazon Wishlist.

And it doesn’t show me the most recent items on my Wishlist (or Saved Items) that cost $5.23 or more.

You know the thought process: If I need to spend $5.23 to get free shipping (worth about $5), I’m going to be more willing to spend $5.23 than I am $15.23.

So why don’t they show me those items that are most likely to get me over the edge?

Now, put on that Amazon hat and look around your store or your online shop.

What can you do to push them over the edge and make it easier to buy?