Friday, December 23, 2011

Trust or consequences?

'Tis also the season of boorish behavior, it seems.  Is it the solstice?

While the perception is that inexcusable behavior rises as we get into ho, ho ho mode, perhaps it's just made more visible because acting badly doesn't jibe with the Joy to the World, Season-of-Light narrative that's all around us.

But hey, neither does crass commercialism.

The silver lining is that there is a considerable, growing and very visible backlash.  With the rise of social media, uncivil behavior is not going unchecked. 

To wit:
  • JP Morgan Chase CEO's Jamie Dimon was called out in Josh Brown's zeitgeist-lassoing letter for his peevishness at being castigated for being "successful."
  • As Black Friday brings more and more stories of disturbing behavior among many, people are documenting it and putting pressure on institutions to check it.
It is a good thing -- to borrow a phrase from a convicted felon -- that we're not inured to such bad behavior, even as it seems pervasive. There are still affirming random acts of kindness being undertaken, as with the K-Mart angels making layaway payments across the nation.

The business lesson?  Only those organizations with a deep reservior of trust, rather than a foundation of sand, can withstand the very public backlash that's following these aberrant incidents.

Be Real and Get Real People! (Companies are people too, at least in this instance.)  In 2012, just be trustworthy.  Please don't waste our time and your money trying to manufacture trust.  Invest in earning it.  There's a much better return.  

Marketing guru Seth Godin nailed it in his blog post homage to Steven Colbert, "Trustiness."

 It's incredibly difficult to build a civil society on the back of "read the fine print...." When we have to spend all our time watching our back and working with lawyers, it's far more challenging to get anything done--and it makes building a business and a brand infinitely more difficult.
The question that needs to be asked by the marketer is, "are we doing this to create the appearance of trust, or is this actually something trustworthy, something we're proud to do?"
 The public is watching and they will out the fake, the false and the disingenuous. 

Don't dream it, be it. 

Best of the Season and Happy New Year to all.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The enemy: Embrace or dispatch?

Competition and Competitors.  It's been a topic of conversation at our TAB Board meetings in recent weeks.

While there are as many different views on the subject as Baskin-Robbins has flavors, they often settle into two main camps:  friend or foe.

Here are two favorite quotes that sum up those competitive mind-sets:
  • "I will destroy my enemies by converting them to friends." - Maimonides
  • “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.” - H.L. Mencken.

In reality, it's a little less sinner or saint.  Most of us belong to trade associations or professional groups where fraternization is not only encouraged, but mandated.  Many of us also get work or referrals from within our industry, often from competitors.  "Coopetition" has become a standard business practice.  And if you have a sale as the exit plan for your business, your most likely buyer is a competitor.

One of the legends of the industry I grew up in had a standard practice of lunching with his competitors on a regular basis...he figured there was enough business for all, and that each of the firms were struggling with the exact same issues.  As a result, he built not only a business, but a legacy.

How do you deal with your competitors?  Do you treat them as the enemy, view them as irrelevant, tap their brains for knowledge, keep them at arms-length?

Do you keep to the advice of Don Corleone?  Or do you have a Blue Ocean Strategy approach?

Today's competitor may be tomorrow's client, or your next CEO.  In an ever-more networked, inter-connected and constantly-evolving business economy (especially in a local or regional commercial ecosystem), strategic cooperation can maximize value in a way that a winner-take-all mentality cannot. 

Besides, spitting isn't hygienic.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Seeing through it all

The word perspective is derived from the Latin word perspecire - to see through.

Today's meaning has morphed, as so many words have, from the original use or intent.  We do not so much look to see through things any more; we are more apt to see past them, or dismiss them outright.

Perspective, whether in business, life or art, is critically important to making good decisions.  Our individual views of events, intent, and values (to name just a few) are radically different from one another; yet we often don't stop to consider a frame of reference not our own.  This myopia often leads to an erroneous view of the world, or worse.

In his new book on the brain and its workings, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman describes the workings of our brains as two systems (named, appropriately, System One and System Two.)  System One is fast, sub-conscious and primitive; System Two is rational, methodical and conscious.   You can read more here

System One is our instinct, or gut.  How many of us rely on our "gut" in making decisions? According to Kahneman, System One is also very, very error prone.  But System Two -- our thinking brain -- also has its faults:  it's lazy and an energy hog.  So yes, thinking is hard, hungry work!!!

But in order to make good decisions, the two systems need to be engaged: we can not rely one one system of thought alone.  As the Latins knew a couple of millennia back: we need more than one perspective to see through the biases and illusions that we all carry but seldom recognize.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Can you believe your eyes?

So how was YOUR Black Friday/Small Business Saturday?  Oh, was there a holiday in there?  Sorry...hope you enjoyed your feast.  How many ways did you find to serve turkey leftovers?  Were you as glad to get back to business as I was? 

There seems to be as many opinions on the opening of the 2011 holiday selling season as there are pundits pontificating and organizations orating.  Sales were up 16% on Black Friday, or they were up 1.9% for the three-day weekend, or don't pay any attention to any of the data.

"Facts are stupid things," Ronald Reagan once misspoke.  He also said, more aptly "trust, but verify."  There are plenty of examples of the dangers of focusing on the wrong thing, one of my favorites being the famous "monkey business" experiment. 

The bottom line is that the most pertinent data are yours:  your Key Performance Indicators, and how you use data to guide your business decisions.  KPI's can be a powerful decision-making tool, when combined with a proper business plan, and they need not be elaborate to be effective; in fact, just the opposite.

For smaller businesses especially, data are essential for being able to separate fact from fiction and to verify the existence of any of 800 lb gorillas sitting in our midst.