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Crash diets and good habits

Crash diets don't work.

They don't work for losing weight, they don't work for making sales quota and they don't work for getting and keeping a job.

The reason they don't work has nothing to do with what's on the list of things to be done (or consumed). No, the reason they don't work is that they don't change habits, and habits are where our lives and careers and bodies are made.

If you want to get in shape, don't sign up for fancy diet this or Crossthat the other thing. No, the way to get in shape is to go to the gym every single day, change your clothes and take a shower. If you can do that every single day for a month, pretty soon you'll start doing something while you're there…

If you want to make sales quota, get in the habit of making more sales calls, learning more about your market and generally showing up. If you show up, with right intent, you'll start making sales. The secret isn't a great new pitch or a new pair of shoes. The secret is showing up.

Your audacious life goals are fabulous. We're proud of you for having them. But it's possible that those goals are designed to distract you from the thing that's really frightening you–the shift in daily habits that would mean a re-invention of how you see yourself.

Organizations can always benefit from better habits. Every day. Do that first.

The race to the bottom

Let's not race to the bottom.

We know that industrialists seek to squeeze every penny out of every market. We know that competitors want to drive their costs to zero so that they will be the obvious commodity choice. And we know that many that seek to unearth natural resources want all of it, fast and cheap and now.

We can eliminate rules protecting clean water or consumer safety. We can extort workers to show up and work harder for less, in order to underbid a competitor. We can take advantage of less sophisticated consumers and trick them into consuming items for short-term satisfaction and long-term pain. These might be painful outcomes, but they're an direct path to follow. We know how to do this.

In our connected world, commodity producers are under intense pressure. The price of anything that's made to a spec, or that responds to an RFP, is instantly known by all buyers. That means that there's an argument made by big corporations for each country to charge corporations the lowest possible tax rate, to loosen environmental regulations down to zero, and to eliminate employee protections. All so that a country's commodity producers can be the cheapest ones.

I know we can do that. There's always the opportunity to cut a corner, sacrifice lifestyle quality and suck it up as we race to grab a little more market share.

But the problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win.

You might make a few more bucks for now, but not for long and not with pride. Someone will always find a way to be cheaper or more brutal than you.

The race to the top makes more sense to me. The race to the top is focused on design and respect and dignity and guts and innovation and sustainability and yes, generosity when it might be easier to be selfish. It's also risky, filled with difficult technical and emotional hurdles, and requires patience and effort and insight. The race to the top is the long-term path with the desirable outcome.

Sign me up.

What if your slogan is true?

Slogans never change anything. They don't grow market share or find you a job or win you an election.

Underneath the slogan, perhaps, is a story. And the slogan well told is a symptom of that story, a shadow of what you're truly up to. A slogan might be evidence that you have a story, but it isn’t a story. A story is something you live and connect with and come back again and again and again.

If the story of your work is consistent, if it resonates with your audience and if you can defend it, then you're likely to succeed. And if your slogan reflects your story, good for you.

Apple has had various slogans through the years, but in every successful iteration of the company, the story has been remarkably consistent: Apple’s story is that they are idiosyncratic artisans producing beautiful products for smart people. That's not a slogan, but it's a useful tool for deciding if you're making something or doing something that you ought to be focusing on.

So sure, start with a slogan. But don't bother wasting any time on it if you're merely going for catchy. Aim for true instead.

How to run a problem-solving meeting

This is a special sort of get together, similar to the meeting where you organize people to figure out the best way to take advantage of an opportunity. In both cases, amateurs usually run the meetings, and the group often fails to do their best work.

Ignore these rules at your peril:

  1. Only the minimum number of people should participate. Don't invite anyone for political reasons. Don't invite anyone to socialize them on the solution because they were part of inventing it–people don't need to be in the kitchen to enjoy the meal at the restaurant.
  2. No one participating by conference call… it changes the tone of the proceedings.
  3. A very structured agenda to prevent conversation creep. You are only here to do one thing.
  4. All the needed data provided to all attendees, in advance, in writing.
  5. At least one person, perhaps the host, should have a point of view about what the best course is, but anyone who comes should only be invited if they are willing to change their position.
  6. Agree on the structure of a deliverable solution before you start.
  7. Deliver on that structure when you finish.

Corporations are not people

You may have read Matt Fisher’s story about the tragic death of his sister and the response of her insurance company. My heart goes out to his family.

She had Progressive insurance and they refused to pay. Instead, the company paid to send a lawyer to coordinate a defense with the other driver–in other words, they paid their lawyers to go to court to prove that Matt’s deceased sister, their client, was at fault. They went to court against their client even though there was significant evidence to the contrary and even though the other driver’s insurance company (Nationwide) had already paid her family $25,000. The amount at stake: just $75,000.

Progressive’s weasely first response is here.

You can read Progressive’s more nuanced, but still doublespeak update here. They could have done the right thing from the start, or almost anywhere along the way, but never did, and they used fancy language to disguise that fact. Of course it’s not against state law for them to settle a case. And of course losing a jury trial is not the same as settling with the family.

If Progressive is proud of their tactics, they should say so. “We fight against claims to keep our costs low, saving you money.” But if they’re not proud, they should tell the truth, learn from it and apologize.

Like many people, I’m disgusted by their strategy, but my point here is this: if someone in your neighborhood used this approach, treating others this way, if a human with a face and a house and a reputation did it, they’d have to move away in shame. If a local businessperson did this, no one in town would ever do business there again.

Corporations (even though it’s possible that individuals working there might mean well) play a different game all too often. They bet on short memories and the healing power of marketing dollars, commercials and discounts. Employees are pushed to focus on bureaucratic policies and quarterly numbers, not a realization that individuals, not corporations, are responsible for what they do.

I hope all smart marketers realize just how dumb Progressive’s marketing has been. But what I really hope is that all smart humans will realize how misguided Progressive’s systems and lack of understanding are. And of course, it’s not just this one corporation, it’s the mindset.

Corporations don’t have to act like this. It’s people who can make them stop. Corporations aren’t people, people are people.


It might not be because you can't find the right answer.

It's almost certainly because you're asking the wrong question.

The more aggressively you redefine the problem, the more likely it is you're going to solve it.

The most successful people I know got that way by ignoring the race to find the elusive, there's-only-one-and-no-one-has-found-it right answer and instead had the guts to look at the infinite landscape of choices and pick a better problem instead.

A figment

It seems like the only thing you can be a figment of is someone's imagination.

Andy Warhol wanted the word FIGMENT etched on his tombstone. He understood that the only place he actually existed (and will exist forever) is in the imagination of other people.

No, the falling tree in the empty forest makes no noise, and your project or your brand doesn't exist except as a figment in someone else's imagination. The challenge, then, isn't to worry so much about what's happening in the real world, outside, but to work overtime to be sure you exist in the figment world, inside.

You don't need proof. You need belief. (HT to Rick Hyman).

Who decided to add the noise?

Five or ten years ago, did people start saying, "I don't go to Yankees games any more–the stadium isn't noisy enough, and there aren't enough ads on the big screen TV?"

The new arena in Newark is purpose-designed to pump as much distortion-free sound into the seats as possible—and they're not afraid to use it at any opportunity.

Noise/music/distraction is as much a marketing choice as your logo or the coupons you use. When the harried clerk at the Delta counter starts yelling into the PA system, that's marketing as well.

The calculation (if it gets made at all) is a complex one. How will this investment in speakers and amps translate into increased attendance? (or sausage sales?)

When you turn the stadium into a real-life video game, when the audience can't hear the players or the skates on the ice, you will no doubt attract an audience—but they will be the drive-by masses, not the lifetime fans. The choice to delight the masses at the expense of the diehards seems easy in the short run, but it's ultimately crippling to the future of the brand.

There's no doubt that louder concerts make rock concert goers believe that the performance was better. But beyond that, have they done the math? [And yes, this series of questions probably applies to your project too, noise or no noise].

You won’t benefit from anonymous criticism

I recently heard from a TED speaker who was able to quote, verbatim, truly nasty comments people had posted about her talk.

And yet, I've never once met an author who said, "Well, my writing wasn't resonating, but then I read all the 1 star reviews on Amazon, took their criticism to heart and now I'm doing great…"

There are plenty of ways to get useful and constructive feedback. It starts with looking someone in the eye, with having a direct one on one conversation or email correspondence with a customer who cares. Forms, surveys, mass emails, tweets–none of this is going to do anything but depress you, confuse you (hey, half the audience wants one thing, the other half wants the opposite!) or paralyze you.

I'm arguing that it's a positive habit to deliberately insulate yourself from this feedback. Don't ask for it and don't look for it.

Yes, change what you make to enhance delight. No, don't punish yourself by listening to the mob.

Buying the thing your project truly needs

In our commercial culture, it's easy to buy just about anything—except the things you really need.

Like a decision. (And the confidence to execute on it.)



And one hundred other things that are valuable precisely because they can't be bought, can't be outsourced and don't appear precisely when needed.