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It’s 11:40am.  A perfect summer’s day.  Not too much humidity.  The streets are alive with people.  I’m in a taxi, trying to get through New York City traffic to Penn Station to catch my train to Washington DC, which leaves at noon.  My train leaves in 20 minutes and I’m still not near the station. The possibility that I might miss my train is looking highly likely.  The perfect day vanishes. Oh no, I’m going to miss my train. How do I react?

1. I cross my fingers and hope I don’t miss the train.
2. I play over in my head of all the repercussions of missing my train.
3. I sweat and get agitated.
4. I start giving the cab driver “polite” advice how to drive better.
5. I beat myself up for leaving my apartment late.

“React” is the strategy and my list of reactions are the tactics – the tangible ways in which I would implement my strategy.  It’s too tactical to start looking for alternative options for each reaction. It’s too inefficient.    What I need is a completely different strategy.  I need a new guiding principle.  So what’s a better strategy than react?

Sitting in the taxi – I make a strategic decision - I am going to proact to the situation.  Now what are my options?  How do I implement? What’s my proaction?

1. I accept that I may very well miss my train.
2. I consider what my course of action should be – get a new ticket for the next train which will probably get me to Washington, at most, an hour later.
3. I ignore the factors that contributed to the possibility of my missing the train (traffic, passive cab driver, my leaving late).  They are of no value to my proaction strategy.
4. I plan who I’d have to call in Washington, what plans need to be adjusted if I catch the later train.

My new strategy fully implemented, I notice something profound.  I’m completely relaxed and completely prepared to miss my train.   I sit back and enjoy the rest of my cab ride and the summer day outside.  My attitude also changes – I’m now enjoying the possibility of making my train instead of the fear of missing it. The situation turned from a race into a game.

 

We need a new verb.  To proact.  If we have the verb, it becomes a viable and actionable strategy.  Telling someone to be proactive is passive, not as powerful, as telling them to proact (think of the opposite – telling someone to be reactive instead of telling someone to react is a very different instruction  - the latter demands action…but in the wrong direction).

A reaction forces us to consider what has happened to determine a solution.  A proaction forces us to consider what will happen to determine a plan.

In business, developing strategies to proact to situations instead of react to them forces us to think ahead.  It changes any situation from a stressful short term race to a strategic long term game.  The stress I had in the cab is no different to the stress of losing a client.  It’s no different to missing financial goals or watching a project go awry...or operating in a “bad” economy.

When we react, we look to point fingers and assign blame (to others or ourselves) for the existence of the situation. We work to compensate or prevent bad things from happening.

When we proact, we accept the situation as fact and start looking for solutions or alternatives.  We work to make good things happen.

I’m using the verb “to proact” on a regular basis now, especially at work and in a strategic context.  No matter the situation, I want proaction to be the primary strategy.  The impact is profound.  It’s forward focused.  It’s optimistic. It’s productive and it encourages people to come together.

As for my train?  I made it.  I didn’t have to implement my proact strategy.  And I didn’t run on to the train and feel relieved, I walked on to the train felt like I won something.  This is the impact of proaction.
Imagine if we all went to work and treated it like a long term game and not a short term race.  Chess instead of a mad dash sprint.  Easily done if we just proact to everything that happens. 

 

 

Driving loyalty is very different from driving repeat sales. There are always reasons people will do business with you that have nothing to do with you -- timing, price, convenience, lesser of evils and force of habit are just a few. These things can help influence an initial sale and they can influence repeat business, but they do not influence loyalty. Just because someone buys from you over and over does not make them loyal.

Loyalty exists when an existing customer chooses to do business with you even when a cheaper, more convenient or even higher quality option is on offer from another company. Someone's decision to ignore a sale or promotion of another seems like irrational behavior. And that's because it is. The part of the brain that controls decision-making and behavior exists in the same part of the brain that controls feelings and emotions. The part of the brain that controls rational thought does not, in fact, control behavior. Someone's decision to stick with one company in the face of overwhelming rational proof of a better offer has more to do with the buyer than the seller. Loyalty is, in fact, not rational at all but a highly emotional state.

Lets look at Apple, for example. Well known for having a fiercely loyal customer base, the base model Macintosh laptop, the MacBook, starts at $1099. A Dell laptop with equivalent performance specs is $649. The Apple is 40% more expensive! And if you're willing to have a slightly smaller hard drive than the Mac, the cost for the Dell is only $499 - less than half the price! Everyone knows that Apples have less software available for them and fewer peripheral choices. And as a recent Mac convert, I can report that my decked out MacBook is slower than my old mid-level Dell. The decision to buy an Apple the first time is clearly far from rational. But the decision to remain loyal is a deeply personal and emotional decision. Owning a Dell says nothing about who I believe I am. But owning a Mac accurately reflects my self identity.

This means loyalty is more a factor of a company's ability to express a clear and honest sense of why they exist and what they believe about the world than simply the quality of what they do or make. The clearer that belief, the more attractive the company is to those with similar beliefs.

Apple is a company not built around a product -- it's build around a belief -- the desire to challenge the status quo. It is no accident that creative-types are drawn to the machines. Apple's ability to attract such a loyal customer base has less to do with their products and their "rational" benefits, and more to do with what the company stands for. Like a flag a loyal soldier follows into battle, Apple and their products stand as a symbol for a cause worth making sacrifices -- like paying a higher price.

My favorite example of loyalty is Harley-Davidson. There are people who tattoo Harley's logo on their bodies. Some who do don't even own their product. The decision to do such a thing -- clearly irrational -- has nothing to do with the quality of Harley bikes or their value as a company. Someone's decision to display that logo on their body is a symbol of a belief. They identify as independents in a world of conformity. Members of the rugged open-road.

Because loyalty is emotional and not rational, you don't actually need to have the best product or service - it needs to be good, but it doesn't have to be the best. Loyalty starts with clarity - your own clarity of what you believe - why you do what you do. This has nothing to do with money, this is about why your company was founded in the first place. Why does it exists? What do you stand for? If others believe what you believe, they will put up with all kinds of better offers to do business with you.

A company's challenge is to never veer from saying and doing the things they actually believe. The discipline to do so is called authenticity, and there aren't too many companies left who can claim to be truly authentic. Fickle customers are not the reason there is such little loyalty these days. It's hard for someone to be loyal when no one knows what you believe.

 

Like most optimists, I'm easily excited by the prospect of something good happening. This is a wonderful disposition for staying happy, but it can be treacherous in business. If I get along with someone, I tend to trust them at their word.  Call it naiveté if you want, but I don’t understand why anyone would lie or exaggerate their capabilities.

 

Unfortunately, like most naïve, overly-trusting optimists, this has burned me on more than one occasion in business.  A perfect, and frequent example, is the case when someone, inspired by my work (or at least they say they are), approaches me with an offer to do something. Maybe they want to redesign the website, help boost sales, do some rebranding exercise, implement some better systems or figure out a social networking strategy.  They promise all the things I think I need, they say they are good at all the things I’m bad at, they have lots of time for all the things I have no time for and they have a list of wonderful clients and case studies that demonstrate how perfectly suited they are to help me “achieve my goals.”

 

On more than one occasion, I engaged in a business relationship with these well-intentioned souls and have found myself on the losing side of the equation.  Often the results fall well short of what I expected or hoped for (which is often very different than from what they expected).  For example, when someone said they could completely redo my website, I thought that meant everything, including the store interface.  Turned out, they don’t have much experience with building a really good online store – so everything looked nice, but my store still didn’t work as I hoped. These relationships never end well and I end up shelling out a lot of money and not getting what I thought I was going to get.

 

Since I learned the Bruder Principles, however, I’m proud to say this scenario no longer happens. 

 

Named after Ron Bruder, entrepreneur, philanthropist and my mentor, Bruder taught me a simple technique to ensure that the relationships I engage in offer true value and last for the long term.

 

1. Do a Background Check

Be it an individual or a company, it takes only a few minutes to google them and do a D&B check.  On more than one occasion I’ve discovered that a company was on shaky ground before we worked with them.

2. Slow Down

So many deals, especially between small companies, are done with excitement and optimism driving them. Simply slowing down the process reveals so much. I slowed down a deal that was going too fast and it completely changed the dynamic of the relationship.  The other party became more aggressive, more impatient with me.  They seemed a little too keen to get the contract signed quickly.  Good business relationships should not be built to go fast, they should be built to go far.

3. Start Small

No deal needs to be comprehensive from the start.  A new relationship should start small.  Doing so often reveals true intentions and, more importantly, allows you to test the relationship with less on the line.  Instead of a complete rebranding, for example, start with just a logo and see how it works out. I won't do a big deal with new relationships anymore. They all start small.

4. Don't Work With Anyone in Trouble

Pay close attention to the kinds of things that are causing someone stress. If they seem to be under financial stress, either their business is not doing well or they are having personal money issues, do not engage with them. You cannot have a productive business relationship when someone is panicked about where their next pay check will come from.  (note: there is a difference between not having a lot of money and being stressed about it).

 

These four simple principles have worked so well to protect me and my interests and I won’t do a single deal now without employing all of them. 

Context for this article is given in the "Write the perfect want ad" video.

Writing the perfect want ad has a structure and  it follows The Golden Circle.  Why - How - What. 


First I asked rhetorical questions trying to connect my Why with the Why of those reading the ad.  My Why is to inspire people to do the things that inspire them so that, together, we can change the world. Anyone who doesn't want to change the world and who doesn't believe in the power of inspiration won't like working for me.  The title of my ad alone will appeal to those who do.

With a quick nod to what the job is, I explain exactly what it's like to work for me.  I'm honest about myself because I don't want any surprises and I don't want whoever gets the job to get something they weren't expecting either. 

How I wrote the ad automatically screened out most of the "bad fits," so I wasn't overwhelmed with responses.  And for the bad fits who did reply, it was easy for me to screen them out myself.  Most importantly, the ad appealed to the "good fits," and all the candidates I met were amazing.  I ended up hiring someone in less than a week she is fantastic.

Remember - there's no difference between customers or employees - people will either believe in what you believe and want to buy your products or they will believe in what you believe and want to work for you.  That they are a customer or an employee is merely a behavioral difference.   Either way, how you write your ad matters.

Good luck and feel free to email if you have any more questions.


Here is the actual ad I posted on Craig's list to hire a new personal assistant.

Do you believe you can change the world?

Do you believe the world needs a little more inspiration in it these days?

Do you want to help make the world a better place?

If so – I might want to meet you.

I’m looking for a personal assistant to help me on my quest. Everyday I wake up to find ways to inspire people to do the things that inspire them. I teach leaders and companies how to inspire people. I speak about it and write about it. But I can’t do it alone – I’m an organizational disaster – so I need help so that I can be as efficient and effective as possible.

There is no office, so you’ll be working virtually most of the time. You’ll have lots of flexibility and freedom with your schedule, so you can do other things – but I am not interested in someone who is a personal assistant to other people.

I travel a lot which means there is lots of scheduling that needs to get done – so you should be a super organized person.

And, as my personal assistant, I might ask for you to help with some personal errands too.

In a nutshell – I need a right-hand man (or woman)...I need a babysitter...I need someone who will help keep me organized and work with me to make this world a better place.

Can you help?

If you’re interested, drop me a note – tell me a little about you and we can set up some time to talk more.

Whoever will help me, I guarantee will help make this world a better place.

Thanks.

I am fascinated by airports. There are few, if any, other places you can visit where such a diverse cross section of society comes together in the same place. Young and old, yuppies, hippies, stoners, rednecks -- they all roam the airport in a sort of social Noah’s Ark where at least two of everything is represented.


It is from this diverse pool of the general public that our airline seatmates are plucked. When we're travelling alone, we don’t have a say in choosing our seatmate. It’s just a luck of the draw. At times, that friend-for-the-flight lottery can be quite unnerving. We’ve all sat on the plane watching the menagerie of personalities getting on board, hoping the one we like the look of will sit next to us. Crestfallen as they pass us for a seat two rows behind, we pray that the excessively obese, sweaty gentleman pushing his way down the aisle will not be our five-hour companion, if for no other reason than because we hope to use both armrests and be able to get up to go to the bathroom at least once during the flight.

Sometimes we may be the object of enticement or derision to the person who got to our row before we did. This was the case of my seatmate this week. A middle-aged woman with short salt-and-pepper hair and tortoiseshell glasses sat in the aisle seat next to mine reading her book pretending I didn’t exist as I stood next to her lifting my case into the overhead compartment. I think she was hoping I wouldn’t be sitting next to her because most people look up and politely ask “are you sitting here?” so they can move aside to let me in. She didn’t even look up, let alone speak to me. I actually had to say "excuse me" to her so she could let me in. She was visibly unimpressed.

I smiled knowing that this one person would have a significant influence over my flight experience. She didn’t smile back. Instead, acting like someone had just asked her to prepare for a root canal, she begrudgingly angled her legs to one side so I could squeeze past. I think people who act like this are kind of funny, so it rarely if ever bothers me when I interact with them in life. All that grimacing and sighing they do to make sure I know how I much I am inconveniencing them must be quite stressful (comedic for me, but stressful for them). With each snort and groan, it’s clear they never figured out it’s a lot less stressful to just be nice or accommodating for someone else every now and then. 

Given the experience I just had getting to my seat, I knew what this flight was going to be like. I’d be putting on my headphones, and, for the duration of the trip, we’d ignore each other except when forced to interact. In any other circumstance, there would be no reason to talk about her, let alone write an entire column about her. But something happened early on in the flight that I didn’t expect. It wasn’t so much what she did but how I reacted to what she did that surprised me. This taught me a simple but valuable little lesson.

Once we were at cruising altitude, the flight attendant came down the aisle to ask us if we wanted an omelet or cereal for breakfast. I chose the cereal and so did my seatmate. A few minutes later, the flight attendant returned to say that there was only one cereal left and asked if one of us would mind having the omelet instead. I was about to turn to my seatmate and say, “You have the cereal, I don’t mind having the omelet,” when, before the words even left my mouth she piped up, “I’ll have the cereal.” I actually felt myself getting angry. General politeness dictates at least turning to the other person and offering or asking.

We all know the proverb “the more you give, the more you get.” And we all intellectually know that being a giver is a good thing. But in an instant, I understood what that idea means more clearly than ever before. It’s not the act of giving that matters; it's having a mindset of giving that matters. Is it nice to give to others? Of course. But what engenders rapport with other human animals is when they perceive us as having that giving mindset. This woman I was sitting next to was a taker. She totally lacked the giving mindset, and, as a result, I really dislike her. I was expecting to ignore her and enjoy my flight, but now I can’t help myself looking over at her and giving her looks of pity. I’m actually writing this piece with her sitting next to me, and I’ve made no attempt to angle the screen. I actually hope she’s reading over my shoulder.

If others perceive we have a giving mindset, they are more likely to get what they want in the first place. The net result to this lady was the same. She would have got the cereal had I offered it to her or if she had just taken it. The difference is, in an instant, I don’t like her, don’t trust her and don’t want to help her. All she had to do was to turn to me and say, “Would you mind if I had the cereal,” demonstrating a giving mindset simply by showing concern for my wants or needs, and I’d be lifting her case out of the overhead when we land without her even asking. Now, well, I may or may not. And if I do, it will be more for me, to reinforce that I’m still a giver or as a way to be snarky with her (nothing is worse than when someone we don’t like does something nice for us. I’d be that guy to her).

In either circumstance, even though the act of taking her case down would be one of giving, it wouldn’t be motivated by that giving mindset. The act would not be a true act of generosity or kindness. And the reason it wouldn’t be is not because of me or her but because of how we interacted.

At various times, we all forget that we’re forced to share more than a row on an airplane with a stranger. We’re forced to share highways, subway cars, sidewalks, offices, schools, neighborhoods, cities, and countries with them, too. We all forget that our own happiness is not solely based on how we live our lives; it’s very much influenced by how others live theirs also. How we’re treated impacts how we feel, daily. Even if for selfish reasons we want to go about our business, do our own thing and live our happy lives, then it matters that we do so with a giving mindset. Next time we walk through a door, lets all commit to holding open that extra three seconds longer so the person walking behind doesn’t have to catch the door we let go of. If we are the ones who happily step to the side as we walk toward someone on the sidewalk, instead of expecting them to move, we’ll all get to where we’re going a little faster. None of us will miss our flights or our meetings or whatever else we’re rushing off to if we let that one person trying to merge into our lane during rush hour just slip in. And the next time the airline runs out of cereal, just turn to the person you’re sitting next to and say, “You have it.” After all, we don’t know who that person is and if they can help us with something we want or need later. Who cares if we get exactly what we want if we can take some comfort in that we helped someone else get exactly what they wanted.

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Bell Curve

Are you a Left-Sider?

Left-siders are the ones who see things differently.

Left-siders are a group of people, often misunderstood by the majority, who see the world a little different. They imagine a world that does not yet exist. They are pioneers and the innovators. They are the visionaries. They are the ones with the capacity to change the world.