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On Change and Becoming a Leader

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Not often do I post two guest posts in the same day, but this one can’t wait.

The education-related portion of Steps Toward Becoming a Technology Leader: Advice to School Administrators is what originally caught my eye, but the root of the discussion has applications in every business, if not every life.

Good stuff from J. Robinson, the 21st Century Principal.

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9 minutes of “Will power”

Yesterday, I happened across this video montage of Will Smith interview clips that has him discussing what motivates him.

His comments on persistence, work ethic and competition are a good listen and well worth the 9 minutes.

Do you have that kind of will power?

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Poisoning Your Customers

Last week a Flathead Beacon reader sent me a nice note about a column that he liked, and while doing so, posed a question.

He said “One thing I am dying to read from you, is how do you get rid of a pain in the butt client — or a pathological recreational shopper — or the perfectionist from hell — without him or her poisoning your other customers?

He’s not in for what he probably expected.

In my experience, few clients really, truly need to be fired (aka “gotten rid of”).

Why not just fire them?

Three reasons:

  • If they really, truly are worth firing, it’s often easier to get them to fire themselves without any negative consequences for you. Raise the bar on what it takes to become/remain a customer. The benefits of doing this are substantial.
  • If they aren’t worth firing but are simply a thorn in your side, it’s the person in the mirror (you and your business) that needs to make changes. Once the thorny customer is satisfied, they usually become one of your biggest fans. I’ve seen it time and time again.
  • How hard is it to get a new customer? What does it cost in time, effort and money?

As I said, if they really need to go, I prefer to work things out so that they fire themselves. But that isn’t the question he asked, so let’s address it.

Back to the question

Let’s do the easy one first – The “pathological recreational customer”.

Some things to consider:

  • Are they coming into your store just to get warm? Obvious…maybe, but be careful. More on that soon.
  • Are they shopping for someone else?
  • Are they a mystery shopper?
  • Are they investigating but not personally planning to buy? The smart ones aren’t going to tip their hand until price comes up and the business is ready to buy.
  • Did they randomly walk into your store?
  • Are they doing price comparisons on your store for a competitor? Note: anyone with a smart phone can do this. Get over it. In fact, get over price as the ONLY competitive edge. Part of your edge, fine. All of your edge? Not so fine.
  • Is their recreational shopping a burden to your business?

Have you talked to them? “I notice that you like to browse through our store but you haven’t become a customer. Is there something you need that we don’t offer?” and take the conversation from there. Again, be careful. You gain nothing from embarrassing a (potential) customer, but there is plenty to lose.

Keester pain

The next easiest one is the “Pain in the Butt customer”.

Let’s consider the reason they’re a pain. It could be one or more of these:

  • The customer is just one of those angry-at-the-world kinds of people.
  • The customer is not being treated in a manner that meets or exceeds their expectations.
  • The customer is not being treated well by anyone’s definition.
  • The customer bought a product or service that doesn’t meet or exceed the expectations you set, which again could mean that you didn’t set any. Sometimes called “merchantability”, we ask the question “Is the product/service reasonably able to solve the problem or fill the need it was being sold for?”
  • The customer has unreasonable expectations.

Note the operative word? Expectations. Do a better job of setting them.

The pain in the butt can most often be turned into your best reference by simply becoming their advocate.

Boy, it’s hot in here

The “perfectionist from hell” is the one you’ll be most tempted to get rid of. Problem is, they often fit into the “keester pain” category.

More often than not, they’re really an indicator that your product line or services are missing one or more tiers of service at the high end. Yep. It’s probably an opportunity. Isn’t that cool?

People like this often have high personal accountability standards and (right or not) hold others to those same standards. Your regular products and services at their regular prices aren’t a good fit for them and their appearance of perfectionism is a good indicator of that.

Add another level.

A higher quality product with a greater level of service attracts a customer who might be a perfectionist and is also willing to pay more for that level of quality.

It’s also a great way of defining expectations for the customer BEFORE they make the purchase and allowing them to choose how they’re served.

It’s Chevy Suburban vs. Cadillac Escalade. Both have a market.

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The Last Five Minutes of the Day

Te atreves...
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Once again, Peter Bregman has a story about how to turn around a day, a career, or maybe even a life.

In five minutes.

Check out today’s guest post from Harvard Business Review.

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Paper. Ink. Electrons. Winston Churchill. Charles Manson.

Creative Commons License photo credit: kekremsi

Recently, the New York Times published a story about changing prices for books in print and how those prices compare to prices for electronic books.

In particular, the story focused on comparison pricing occurring at for books published both in paperback and for the Kindle, a very popular eBook reader manufactured and sold by Amazon.

The story teaches a very valuable lesson. It starts by quoting customers who automatically assume a lower manufacturing cost for an electronic book, since the incremental cost of producing extra copies appears to be (or close to) zero.

Customers, unaccustomed to seeing a digital edition more expensive than the hardcover, howled at the price discrepancy, and promptly voiced their outrage with negative comments and one-star reviews on Amazon. â??Really, James Patterson?â? wrote one reader from Elgin, Ill. â??Why would it possibly cost more for a digital download than printed and bound ink on paper?â?


Nowhere does anyone say anything about the fact that the reader gets the same VALUE from both books.

Nowhere does anyone say anything about the fact that the reader can read the Kindle version on their PC, Jerry’s iPad, Dad’s Blackberry, Joe’s iPhone, Sandy’s iPod Touch or their brother’s Mac.

Nowhere does it talk about the ability to share comments/annotations, read a page on one device and find it in that same place when they start reading the next time on a totally different device.

For that matter, nowhere does anyone note that the value of the book has nothing to do with the cost of ink, paper, binding or electrons.

Neither should the author of a book, regardless of the means used to deliver it.

Oh the cost of it all

Yes, I realize that the printed book seems like it ought to cost more.

After all, someone had to put it in a box, put it on a truck and deliver it to the local bookstore. There’s the cost of the driver, the truck, the fuel, the paper, the ink, the brick and mortar that built the store and so on.

The difference to most is that people typically don’t see the costs invested to deliver the electronic form, all they see is that 1 copy costs no more than 2 copies because it’s just another download.

When people howl about the price of an electronic book, no one considers the amount (much less the cost) of research and development necessary to design the Kindle device and have it manufactured and shipped to the U.S.

They don’t marvel at the costs of the servers and software to support the book’s transport to a wide range of devices and software viewers.

They don’t consider the boardroom and engineering efforts to work out deals with cellular carriers so that the device can download newly purchased books and sync anywhere in the world without so much as a login.

But none of that matters. It’s great evidence. Great talking points.

But it doesn’t matter one bit.

What matters

The value of the content inside the book is what matters.

What if you opened that book and in two hours of reading learned something that changed your life, changed your business or cured a problem you’ve had for years?

Is the allegedly zero incremental cost of that electronic book in any way relative to the value you received from it? No way.

Are professional baseball bats priced like a 2×4? Are a PGA champion’s golf clubs priced like stainless steel and graphite you might find in an auto parts store? Of course not.

So why is it so easy to assume that a printed book is worth more than an electronic version?

Because no one put any effort into convincing you that the electrons (or the paper and ink) don’t even begin to set the value.

98 cents

Your body is worth about 98 cents in “ingredients”.

Going by that measure, Winston Churchill and Einstein are each the equivalent in value of mass murderer Charles Manson.

I don’t think so.

Never let your products/services get to the point where the value you deliver is calculated primarily by the container it’s delivered in and/or the material it’s made of.

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I don’t even have a sword

Iraqi Soldier
Creative Commons License photo credit: nukeit1

Today’s guest post from, which might on the surface seem to be about the military and Afghanistan but I think you can look through it with the right lens for your business and find my real message in it.

Hint: It fits nicely with my burden shift discussion earlier this week.

Second hint: Note the teddy bears in the photo.

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If you want bling, work!

Fifteen minutes with Gary Vaynerchuk of – which means you get some colorful language on occasion – but you also get a dumptruck load of value.

Gary has a way of cutting through the excuses and the cants that few can put into words like he does.

What are you waiting for?

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Being unsociable is a poor choice for the SEC

Night Train
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Yesterday’s heads up from Mashable about the Southeast Conference’s (SEC) proposed new media policy had the social media world (among others) buzzing in a hurry.

The bottom line? No social media usage will be allowed at SEC sporting events.

What exactly does this mean?

It means no Tweeting from the stadium to your buddy 1500 miles away just to annoy him (even more) about missing the game due to an out of town meeting.

It means no Posterous live blogging from your phone by email.

It means no bouncing, fuzzy YouTube video of your team’s band playing your favorite song (see below), no LSU dance team shots on Flickr ( not even to your daughter who is trying out next year) and absolutely, certainly no pics or video of the Texas Luvs on your Flickr page or photoblog when UT visits your SEC school.

We just talked about the SEC and their new network on ESPN last week, using them to illustrate a lesson for competitive strategy, so it’s interesting to compare that to this because they’re both about competition.

“Protecting the brand”

The spokesperson will talk about how they’re protecting their brand and that their TV network has exclusivity and so on.

And I can understand that. Really, I can. And I understand what happens if you don’t protect and defend your trademarks.

But it’s still a bad idea because it doesn’t build the brand. It doesn’t build fans. It doesn’t engage your fans.

Instead, it ticks them off.

Some would say that the SEC is protecting their members’ brand, but they are already well in control of that.

Don’t believe me? Just try putting a Gator, “‘Bama”, the LSU Tiger or a Razorback on anything for retail sale without an explicit license to do so.

Some would say that social media will cause TV coverage to “leak” viewers (and thus money due to ad buys, etc). While I disagree, it’s easy to see how the SEC would view that as diluting their brand if they approach this from the wrong angle.

Fact of the matter is, it *strengthens* their brand by being everywhere, increasing the ability of fans to become rabid fans by consuming even more information about their team. For rabid fans, its one more way to attempt to satisfy their need for info.

A reader over at hit the nail on the head, noting “This is another case of big business not “getting it”. This reminds me of when the sports venues freaked out about televising sports events because they thought no one would come to the stadiums any more.” (the rest of the comment can be found at the link).


If I’m SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, I don’t want to find 529 Google hits on “LSU band neck“, as I found today.

I want to find 52900 or 529,000.

If I stumble across a YouTube video of rural village kids in Ghana calling the Hogs, I’m not furiously dialing the YouTube CEO to complain, instead I’m thrilled that our fans are so rabid that they are spreading the word – even in Africa. I might even have someone dig around and find similar things to show off to the press and fans.

If I’m the SEC commissioner, I want the entire South er no, I mean Nation planet to eat, drink and sleep my conference’s sports.

I want to walk into a street cafe in Paris and hear someone talking about last weekend’s Georgia-Florida game – with a French accent.

I want people clinging to SEC football and basketball long before they start clinging to guns or religion.

And as a little side benefit, I want the other conferences to go to sleep at night dreaming they could do what my conference does.


When we went over the story about the new SEC/ESPN network last week, it was clear that other conferences are ticked off. Even Notre Dame seems torqued, perhaps because they’ve enjoyed that level of exclusivity for years.

The rest of the gang? They wish they had the same “problem” that the SEC has.

Now imagine that you’re the Big12 or PAC-10 commissioner.

First thing you do the day that the SEC announces that wacked-out social media policy?

Fly in GaryVee, call a press conference and have Gary announce a new Big12 social media contest, website, program and what not. We’re gonna show the best ones at halftime and on tv so you can enjoy them as you munch on a big bag of Doritos. Maybe you even come up with a way to get the crowd fired up during the game with crowd-created videos – even those made earlier in the game.

Use your imagination. Remember our “go after their strength” discussion.

Think long term

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with this is the long-term damage that this could cause to SEC schools.

If I’m the guy looking for endowment money or selling season tickets, the last thing I want to hear about is a stadium cop tossing a fan out of a game because they are filming a jerky, not-exactly-1080p high-def video of the Razorback cheerleaders on their iPhone.

If you do that today, that fan will remember that for the rest of their lives.

It is entirely possible that their memory will likely be strongest when you call to ask for endowment/scholarship money, season ticket renewal or when their kid starts talking about going to your school.

A prime example: Former Arkansas athletic director Broyles made numerous and valuable contributions to the rise of Arkansas sports during his accomplished tenure.

Despite that, you don’t have to look far among Arkansas alumni to find someone who vividly remembers the student body being yanked around by Broyles during the last 30 years. Some still stew about it after 2 decades.

So when you find that SEC school’s potential booster and you ask them to help out your school, what kind of memory do you want them to have?

A Frank Broyles moment? A stadium cop moment? Probably not.

Engage and Enable

The SEC should be encouraging discussion and interaction about SEC sports.

They should be engaging new fans and enabling their fervor to grow, rather than finding a new way to tick off an entire generation of college students – the same folks that your successor will be looking at for high $ donors 20-30 years from now.

UPDATE: Seems the SEC has been a tad surprised by the substantial negative reaction to their proposed social media policy. As a result, they’ve relaxed things a bit (Twitter and the like are OK now), but video is still off the table.

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Amanda Palmer 1, Naysayers 0

Concierto Amanda Palmer and The Danger Ensemble, Sala [2]
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An ideal guest post for America’s Independence Day, Tech Dirt’s coverage of Amanda Palmer’s use of Twitter for grassroots marketing of her music (and other stuff). I hadn’t heard of her until reading the article.

Note: This is not a G-rated article, but it is instructive all the same.

The point of this is to think, much less think unconventionally, consider the resources you have available and most importantly, to communicate with your fans (even plumbers have fans, so don’t think that your business doesn’t).

Regarding naysayers: There will *always* be people who tell you you can’t do it, you can’t sell for that price, you’ll never make it, etc.

They might be partly right: perhaps they couldn’t.

The question isn’t what they can or can’t do, it is…  Can you?

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In a room full of billionaires, the cream still rises.

Unknown Gursikh
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Not long ago, I was having a conversation with a photographer friend about a photographer he knew that was in the middle of shooting a Sikh wedding.

I’ve never been to one, but it sounded like it lasts several days and ends up resulting in 6000-10000 photos. Quite a celebration.

I suggested that if one really studied their ceremony, their beliefs and learned more about these things than anyone else in their large community, this photographer would really standout and as a result, dominate that business.

The end result would be to become the #1 expert in photographing Sikh weddings in that area, perhaps nationwide.

My friend said “Standing out is the new normal.”, in effect saying that everyone stands out in that business and that standing out is no big deal these days.

Maybe he’s right, but I haven’t seen that yet.

I believe there is always room – in any market, to do what others won’t do, to learn what others won’t learn and to provide service that others can’t or won’t provide.

As I remarked to him, “even in a room full of billionaires, the 80/15/5 rule holds true.”

In other words, even in a room full of highly-successful people, 5% of them could kick the crap out of the others in business, tennis, mountain climbing or whatever they attempted.

Yet they’d all be billionaires.

To that end, Tom Peters’ site posted “Be irreplaceable” today – definitely worth a read.