Friday, November 28, 2014

Friday Favorites - You have to hatch if you want to fly

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Theory: that our biggest worry is not that we can't change a certain thing.  Our biggest worry is that we can, but that we have to do something significant or uncomfortable in order to do so.  

Why do I have to be the one?
Even an issue outside of you, one the size of national government or climate change, can be impacted by individual choice and individual action.  It's easy to say "why bother?" because "not enough people will go out of their way or inconvenience themselves to make a difference - why should I be the one?"

In a change that affects a group, individuals often assume that someone else will take the point and lead.  They might be accustomed to a certain person stepping forward to take care of the dirty work, so instead of acting they watch. Let someone else make the sacrifice.

Better to keep one's head down?
Maybe you think it's better to leave well enough alone.  You don't want to stand out by standing up when you see a person being mistreated. Perhaps if you just sit still things will change around you.  That might sound like the easier path at first - just to keep your head down and let events take their course without you. But what if events don't evolve in the way you predict, or in the way that would be best for everyone, or in the way that you want?  You might be waiting for the flood water to recede, when all the water can do is to grow deeper.

What you have to do if you want to fly
C.S. Lewis's view of humankind is that you have to change form, from an egg to a bird if you want to be able to fly. Are you a perfectly ordinary egg right now?  How do you think it will feel to hatch in order to learn to fly?  Are you concerned about the broken shell?  Do you worry that it will hurt you to hatch, or that you will become exhausted by the effort needed to make your way out?

For any individual it comes down to the perceived importance of the change.  If you don't care about flying, or if you don't have to fly in order to keep yourself or those you love safe in this world, perhaps you think it would be just as well to enjoy the coziness of your present condition.  Even with its limitations.

Consider this: one thing you can't change is that over time you will change.  And if your change means you will grow, that shell will become tighter and tighter, confining you until your arms and legs are stiff and bent.  At some point you will have to break out.  If you wait long enough, will your resistance and delay have caused irreparable damage?

Sure, there are things you can't change - like other people.  They are the ones with the choice (the responsibility?) to change themselves.  You might be able to influence how they are by how you are, or by the way in which you see them and interpret their actions.  But can you change them?  Nope.  That's not something you can worry about. Their egg is their own.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Do you have what you want?

How much is enough?  You can chase your tail for a
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lifetime trying to get what you want, or you can make a decision to want what you already have.  It might not be new, it might not be perfect, it might not even be comfortable all of the time, but it's plenty.

Give thanks for annoying family members, because that means you have family.  Be glad for loads of laundry, because that means you have enough clothing to wear that you can take some of the items out of circulation long enough to clean them. Say a word of thanks for the unexpected, because it makes your life exciting, and gives you the opportunity to stretch yourself.  Sometimes the events that are the most difficult to get through create opportunities for gratitude, because they bring supportive friends and family to circle the wagons around you and show you that they love you.

 Our wish for you is that every day becomes one where you can find ways to be thankful for whatever (and whoever) is already in your life.  You have plenty.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How do you express thanks?

You can sing about it, you can send cards, and you can eat
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until your belt won't stretch any more.  But that's not really Thanksgiving.  There's a reason why it's called Thanks
giving and not Thankssaying.  Gratitude for receiving is best expressed by giving.

The Two-Way System - Reciprocity
The laws of physics have application in the sphere of human relationships.  An action develops an equal and opposite reaction - that is if you and the other person involved want the relationship to stay in balance.  Reciprocity is about give and take, about one hand washing the other. You give a referral for a potential new client, and eventually some beneficial gesture comes back - perhaps the very same thing, a referral for a potential new client for you.

This law is so powerful that you gain influence when you are the first giver, because you set the law of reciprocity in motion.  Reciprocity is not, though, giving with strings attached.  It loses impact when the other party realizes that you have a strategic agenda.  And when your first gesture is out of proportion (much larger) with what they could possibly reciprocate, they will likely perceive it as an attempt to manipulate rather than help.

The One-Way System - Paying it Forward
When you pay it forward you are not expecting to receive back.  This may be the very best way to express thanks.  You do it not because you want something back, but because you want to do it and are able to do it.  In other words, paying it forward is reciprocating for that which you have been given, but to someone other than the one who gave it to you.  In effect, the first giver is the model for unselfishness, and the practice of giving is passed down the line, with each recipient doing for the next.

Reciprocity is a closed system, where giving is passed back and forth, forming the glue between individuals.  Paying it forward is an open system, where more and more people can be impacted by the love - yes, love - of another.  This is not to say that reciprocity is wrong, but that the truly thankful heart gives without expectation.

Now the question for you today:  what would you give, what could you give, and to whom might you give without expectation of getting back?  How might you pay it forward for all that you have already been given?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Are you a starter - or a finisher?

The husband just got scammed again.  He was intending
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to leave for a meeting in 30 minutes when his wife walked into the room with that familiar - and dreaded - "I've got a project" look in her eye.  He tried to preempt her inevitable request with a quick "I don't have time for anything.  I have to leave for a meeting."

"It won't take long, really," she said.  So her husband climbed out of his chair, grumbling, and followed her into the garage.  She was attempting to clear some space for the snow blower to be more accessible, but in the process managed to become stuck part of the way through the process.  She needed him to come out and help her move a few of the heavy things.

This woman is a starter.  She has initiative.  No moss grows under her feet.  She sees something that needs to be done, and she does it.  Most of the time.

The rest of the time she miscalculates the amount of time and energy, skill level, tools and/or supplies that are needed to accomplish the big improvements she has in her mind's eye.  She sometimes plans ahead, but when inspiration strikes (or has already been percolating for a while in her brain) she jumps in with both feet and works like crazy until she finds herself stuck, overwhelmed, or overpowered by said big improvement.

Fortunately, her husband is a finisher.  You could even say that he is a perfecter.  He has high standards for his work product, so he prefers to think things through, ponder, analyze alternative approaches, and then (maybe) begin the project.  Knowing just how long the project will take, he waits for a time slot that will accommodate the project from beginning to end.  Unfortunately, to do projects the way he prefers to execute them, adequate time slots come by only once in a blue moon.

Is this a recipe for divorce, or for synergy?  A starter and a finisher living in one house, or working together in a business, might find conflict in their opposite approaches to work.  But they also serve as balances for one another.  When you have a starter in your department, momentum builds.  Then just as the ignition starts to founder the finisher steps in and takes over the next leg of the productivity relay.

Is it better to be a starter, or to be a finisher? We're not going to go there, but it's probably good to know which one you are.  Once you know you can either work to moderate your tendencies (if they are extreme,) or find a partner or colleague that provides the balance for you - a yin for your yang or vice-versa.

It is possible to train yourself to be a quicker starter, and a more consistent finisher.  One key lies in doing written goal plans.  Through the process of writing things down, the starter can think through anticipated obstacles and may even be able to project some worst case scenarios that would previously have stopped the show.

The finisher can incorporate an analysis of why the project is important, thereby amping up the motivation to get started.  In addition, a goal plan can help the finisher identify ways to break up the project into more manageable bites.  That way he or she can get a bit done at a time without having to wait for the perfect opportunity before taking the first step.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Just one little change...

Sometimes a smoothly running going concern isn't much fun.
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 It's boring because your creative energies aren't required to do the work every day.  Where's the joy of starting something new?  Where is the fun of conquering obstacles?  Some people love consistency, of maintaining what is.  But you're not one of those.  The idea of doing the same thing every day sends shivers down your spine and a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.

So why not change something?  Why not make one little adaptation over here in the corner.  Maybe nobody will notice, or better yet, it might make things better, smoother, tidier, or slicker.  You can shake up the day a bit, stretch the innovation muscles, have a little fun...

Wait a minute.  Are you improving something, or are you tinkering?  Yes, we know that sometimes it's good to fix things that are not yet broken.  But is this a fix, or is it only a change?  Is there a reason why (supported by data) that you have chosen this particular thing to mess with, or were you just walking past when you were struck with "inspiration"?

Here's why this matters:  one change you make over in that corner might have implications and ripples all over the place.  Let's say that you are in professional services and you reduce a price on a project because a prospective client pushed back on your regular price.  You're itching for a sales win, so you knock the price down a tad to buy the deal.

Now what happens?

  • This prospect now thinks that your price had fat built in, because you were able to take off some profit without harm.  (that's assuming that you made no changes to the substance of what you're proposing to provide to them).  Your credibility and pricing structure are now shot with this client, and you have effectively taught him or her to play "Let's make a deal" every time they bring a potential project to you.
  • Your gross profit is a bit low on this deal, and the things that you usually pay for out of your GP aren't all able to be covered.
  • Your company misses taking advantage of discounts because it's having to pay a bit more slowly.  This is due to the reduced amount of cash thrown off by your project.
  • Somebody else on your team found out that you shaved the price on your deal, and the guy is running a bit short on his sales quota.  He decides what's good for you is good for him, and he cuts the profit on his own prospect's deal in order to move it forward.  The company takes another hit, and later another, and another....

Not all tinkering is that dramatic in outcome.  You might be able to change a display in a retail establishment to freshen up the visuals for customers as well as for fun.  Maybe this won't have other ramifications, but what if the items you displaced are specials that the owners are trying to feature so that they move quickly?  Or if you are the owner, what if you have just undone (and undermined) the work that someone on your staff has just completed?

Improvement is a good thing, and often can be done in increments rather than overhauls.  Change made solely for the sake of mental exercise or for expedience, on the other hand, is not necessarily healthy for your business.  Almost every change that you make is going to change something else, by intention or not.  And sometimes the after-effects might be more than you bargained for.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Is a toilet paper mindset hurting your business?

You're familiar with the concept of scarcity mentality, right?  
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That's when you think that there's not enough business for everyone and so you'd better scratch and claw to get yours.  That's when you are certain that past successes are just that - in the past - and you can't expect more in the future because they were caused by luck, or flukes, or just being in the right place in the right time.  If you've got scarcity mentality you're suffering from a toilet paper mindset.

The toilet paper story was the single most memorable lesson of banking school.  Yes, Dr. Seifried, twenty-five years later it's still locked in the brain.  That's the story about how mindset creates reality.  In Dr. Seifried's tall tale, while taking his grandma to the grocery store he demonstrates his prowess as an economist by giving her the inside scoop:  economic indicators tell him that there is going to be a toilet paper shortage.  He's joking, but since he's her beloved grandson and the economic expert, she believes him.  Shocked and worried, she stocks up, filling her cart with toilet paper.  After returning home from the store, his grandma jumps right on the telephone and tells all of her friends that there's going to be a toilet paper shortage.  As a result, all of her friends stock up on toilet paper too, creating in her local grocery stores guess what - a shortage of toilet paper!

Some cost-averse, scarcity-minded companies make across-the-board cuts and/or freezes without analyzing thoroughly which cash outlays are warranted and which are not. Expenses and investments are two different animals. An expense is gone when it's gone. An investment generates a return. Both temporarily reduce the number of dollars in the wallet, but an investment replenishes itself, and when it's really good the return will be in larger denominations than the original expenditure.

Savvy business owners know that cash is king, and that mindfulness about spending contributes to success and sustainability.  Good businesses want to create value for customers at the lowest possible cost. But there are some business owners out there who cut some of the meat along with the fat, in businesses where there is more productivity to be gained and/or better process efficiency. It's sound business practice to prioritize creativity over capital in searching for solutions, but sometimes an investment of capital is exactly what the situation needs.

Ask yourself these questions when you're faced with an opportunity to part with your hard-earned cash:
  • Does this directly impact my ability to attract top line revenues at an acceptable margin?
  • Will it return value to my company? What are the rewards (in specific terms of customer impact, ability to manage, financial impact, and growth and innovation?)
  • What are the risks if I don't do it? (Look at the same criteria as the rewards, in as specific terms as you can muster.)
  • Does this enable me to be more competitive and thereby gather a higher percentage of market share?
  • How quickly can I expect a return? (You might want to set specific criteria for the expected payback period.)
  • Is this building my production capacity?
Even when business conditions are improving the toilet paper mindset can linger on, hampering your business's ability to capitalize on opportunities. Do you want toilet paper mindset to choke your business's growth?  Of course you don't.  So take one extra package if you must, but put the rest of the toilet paper back on the shelf.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Disappearing online

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What happens to your business when your online presence disappears? It's estimated that up to 83% of purchasing decisions are now being made via online research, before a buyer ever enters a store.  So if you're not there, because of having no online presence (no website, no Google+ or Facebook page or LinkedIn profile) or because of technical glitches, how much business are you sacrificing?

If you're reading this you're probably not in the website-less category, but if you are, go to right now and take advantage of Google's free url, free hosting for one year, and templates for simple website setup.  Your local SCORE chapter might also be offering a workshop where mentors can help you get started, even if you're not technically inclined.

If you're in the second category, with a glitch taking you offline, how is your business being interrupted?  How much have you grown to rely upon your website for lead generation, for clients being able to transact purchases, or to set appointments with you?

When you make a name or address change in your business you're impacting

  • Search engines' ability to find you
  • Maps and other online information that helps customers locate you
You might even negatively impact your reputation as a going concern if you disappear from the web for a significant period of time.  So if you're contemplating making a change, make sure you're changing
  1. Your website - with transition information (repointing sites) to help clients find your new one
  2. Your Facebook page
  3. Your business Google+ profile.  What?  You don't have a Google+ profile?  Make that one of your first tasks because Google has to be able to find you if anyone else is going to find you.
  4. Your LinkedIn profile
  5. Any other social media sites on which you're listed
  6. Trade association sites under which you might be listed
Managing your online identity has many moving parts.  You can't afford to disappear online, so make your plan before you set the schedule for making your changes.