April 13, 2012
…and guess what, you don’t really listen. In fact, while reading this article, you are not really reading what I intended it to mean…
Last month, I was on a flight from Orlando to Boston that had a bit of a problem.
An hour before our scheduled landing in Boston, the pilot announced the main braking system was not functioning properly. Although the backup system would most likely work fine, the pilot and flight attendants were preparing us for the worst.
They carefully described the emergency procedures. They were very similar to the ones frequent travelers have heard many times before. But this time, you could hear a pin drop as they walked us through what would happen. Everyone was paying attention.
Although I am on nearly 100 flights a year, I was listening in a way I never had before. The truth is, I rarely pay attention to the emergency procedures when we are not in an emergency situation.
This got me thinking: Do I ever really listen?
The answer is no. And regrettably, I am not alone.
Unfortunately even when you are trying to listen, you are still likely not really hearing properly.
Psychologists call this “confirmation bias.” We are naturally wired to filter and interpret information to conform to our underlying belief structures. And very simply put, these beliefs cloud how we hear. We only take in those pieces of information that align with our beliefs, and we disregard anything that contradicts them.
Understanding confirmation bias can have a significant impact on your ability to have effective relationships. And as a small business owner, it can have a profound impact on your success if you’re not hearing the true meaning of what your customers and colleagues are saying.
In the corporate environment, I’ve seen brilliant ideas proposed by recent college graduates that were completely dismissed by more senior people. But when those senior people said the exact same things, others thought they were geniuses.
A friend of mine recently attended a weeklong training class. When asked about the class, he responded that he was less than impressed with the instructor. When I asked why, he said, “It’s hard to listen to him. He’s dressed like a slob. His hair was a mess and his shirt was never properly tucked in.” The instructor’s appearance impacted how he was heard. Amusingly, on the last day of the class, his perspective changed. When pressed to understand why, I discovered the instructor had gotten a haircut and was wearing a stylish suit and tie. The change in appearance impacted how my friend heard the instructor. He claimed the instructor now “sounded more intelligent.”
As you read this article, I can assure you that your judgments are impacting how you receive what you are reading. If you want to actually absorb the value of what someone is saying, you need to know your natural biases. This will impact your ability to innovate.
The first step to listening better is to recognize the fact that you don’t. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you really hearing what others are saying? Or are you only passively listening?
- Are you focused on their words? Or are you thinking about what you will say next?
- Are you putting yourself in the shoes of the other person? Or are you only interested in meeting your own objectives?
- Do you ask a lot of questions? Or are you doing all of the talking?
- Are you hearing what they are really saying? Or are you too colored by your own perceptions, judgments and filters?
This last question is critical. If you are honest, you will most likely begin to see that your filters are getting in the way of communication. By recognizing that you even possess these filters, you can become more aware when they begin to color your interpretations. This allows you the choice to set them aside so you can create an effective opening to listen.
Think about what your customers try to tell you…
March 3, 2012
This article originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum
The way we frame our business world can significantly impact our success. Frameworks are useful, but they can also be limiting. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the way things have been done in the past.
One useful framework is often called the product funnel or the accelerant curve. This framework typically refers to speakers, consultants, Internet businesses and those who create “intellectual property.” But the concept can be applied to any business, especially small businesses.
The general philosophy of the product funnel is to have products and services that increase in value so that you can continue to up-sell over time.
In this framework, customers enter your pipeline to buy a low- or no-cost item. This helps you to build trust, which in turn, lets you provide more robust solutions to your customers and put more money in your pocket.
I work with a lot of professional speakers. They would probably draw the curve as it is depicted to the right.
Most speakers offer a $25 product, typically a book. This is the low end of their curve. And, at the high end, they deliver a speech for which they charge $25,000.
Given this framework, the natural tendency is to fill in the curve with products priced in between. This might include CDs, DVDs, membership sites or coaching. They create a $250 product, a $750 offering and a $2,500 service.
The boundaries established by this framework—$25 and $25,000—delineate how you think about innovation.
While this tends to be the practice of most people who offer such services, looking at the curve this way may limit your true growth potential. Instead of $25,000 being at the top of the curve, what if it were actually near the bottom?
What if the top of the curve is closer to $1,000,000, or higher? If that is the case, you need to create products that are more than $25,000, not less. These could include assessments and diagnostics, consulting arrangements, sustainability programs that bring a speech to life over an extended period of time, or anything else that adds value.
From this example, you can see how the framework you create dictates your production. A small framework produces only the results that fit within that structure. Expanding your view opens up possibilities for greater value and financial gain.
This concept can apply to any business.
Are you a plumber? Maybe your typical project generates around $2,000. You may be tempted to offer a lower-cost option, perhaps a do-it-yourself kit, for only $200, which is valuable.
But what if, instead of $2,000 being the high-water mark for your services, you created a $200,000 offering? This would certainly get your creative juices flowing. Maybe, instead of selling your services to individuals, you target condominium associations, selling them an all-inclusive deal for every unit. It would challenge you to think bigger than you have thought before.
Are you a restaurateur? So many businesses offer their customers low-cost meals through Groupon or Restaurant.com. These may be reasonable entry points for your product funnel and are effective for driving new traffic.
But instead of focusing your efforts on smaller “transactions,” what if you shift your view to incorporate a higher-value, higher-dollar, relationship-driven option? How can you create a $10,000 meal?
Think big. Consider catering or developing an annual diet program that delivers meals to your customers to meet their dietary needs. Who knows what you will think of? But it is time to think big.
When you think small, you produce small.
You could even sabotage the business that you already have. I recently purchased a Groupon deal for a cleaning service. The owner’s hope was that Groupon would help her acquire new customers. She has been in business for seven years, but this low-price mindset might have killed her company. So many people subscribed that she could not adequately service her regular customers, let alone the new ones, and she risked losing them.
No matter what your business, avoid the “transactional” mindset. Find ways of engaging with your customers by providing both lower- and higher-priced offerings that will ultimately create a long-term relationship. But even more importantly, think big. Find ways of creating massive value, beyond anything you have considered before. Redraw your funnel or your curve by blowing the top off it.
How will you rethink your business?
Extra added bonus content:
When I originally posted this article on my Facebook page, someone commented that,
“The assumption that you are even worth $25,000 is a stretch for many folks. And for product companies, like shoes, for example, why spend hours thinking about a $200,000 shoe? Certainly that time would be better spent figuring out how to lower costs or enter new markets.”
Great point! Here was my response:
“The usefulness of this concept depends on the evolution of your company. Regardless, it is a useful thought exercise. Most small businesses get stuck with a mental model which limits their thinking. I have this product, so this is what I sell. Just asking the question, ‘What product/service could I offer that is 10x what I offer today?’ can get a mature and established business thinking about bigger opportunities with greater leverage.
“And sometimes it is not about a bigger product. For example, with my self published book, it is easier for me to sell 500 books to one client than it is to sell 500 books to 500 individuals. There is no leverage in the latter. Instead of a $15 sale, I discount and sell 500 in bulk for about $4,000.
“The question isn’t necessarily even new products but maybe different sales channels/methods for increasing $$ per sale.”
February 6, 2012
It is the Monday after the Superbowl. While scanning the TV stations and flipping through the radio channels this morning, it seemed as though everyone was discussing and analyzing (and analyzing and analyzing…) the football game. Everyone is a Monday morning quarterback.
Come on, get a life! Stop living your life through someone else.
Tom Brady does not care about your life. Why should you invest so much emotional energy in studying his?
Instead of being a fan of someone else’s life, be a fan of your own life.
Be a Monday morning quarterback on what worked and what didn’t work last week…for your business. Study your statistics to decide if you are moving in the right direction. Invest in you and your greatness.
I invest my money in me: my education, the development of my business, the hiring of the right talent, personal development, etc. I rarely invest my money in what others are doing. In fact, I almost never buy stocks. If I invest in me and my business, I am confident that in the long run I will have a higher return on my investment.
Start investing time, money and emotional energy in you and your business.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy watching the New England Patriots (even when they lose). It is entertaining and inspiring. Their drive and determination always jazzes me up and has me perform better in my life.
But I would not call myself a fan of any sports team.
I prefer to be fanatical about my life; doing what I can to make it as amazing as possible.
[end of rant]
January 9, 2012
My book, Goal-Free Living, was featured on the cover of the November 2005 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. Two full pages were dedicated to my goal-free concepts. (If you check out the cover left, you’ll see the headline “What the happiest people know for sure.” That is my article.)
Although this was one of the proudest moments in my life, surprisingly, this type of publicity actually had a negative impact on my business.
You must be thinking: How is this possible? Doesn’t everything Oprah touch turn to gold?
Yes, typically. But my situation was different. My core buyers were (and still are) innovators within corporations. As much as I personally admire Oprah and her work, my clients were not as enthusiastic.
For example, after putting the Oprah mention on my website, my bounce rate (the number of people who immediately leave my website) went through the roof. I had potential clients say that they chose someone else who appeared to be more focused on the needs of corporations. They proceeded to share that the Oprah mention made me seem less “serious.”
I even had one client tell me, just as I was about to go on the stage, “If you mention Oprah, we won’t pay you.”
Apparently, the combination of my “self-help” book and the magazine publicity caused confusion. It was no longer clear that my main business focused on the needs of corporations. In this moment I discovered that the old mantra was true: “A confused buyer never buys.”
There is a lesson in this for every small business.
Know your audience. Know their needs—explicit and latent. Speak their language. Understand what gives you credibility in their eyes.
When you innovate, don’t alienate your current market. You can expand to other markets, but continue meeting the needs of those who have been loyal fans.
Innovation is about shifting your business in a new direction at the right speed. Think of the degree of change as a compass setting.
Reinvention is different than innovation. Reinvention (what I attempted when writing Goal-Free Living) is when you move your business on a 90-degrees (or even 180-degrees) turn. It is a pretty radical change. Your customers may not understand the shift and you may lose them in the process.
On the other side of the compass, there are many businesses making only 5-degree turns. They focus their time on incremental innovations. Although these improvements are valuable, on their own they are not sufficient to sustain long term growth and prosperity. You can ride your past success for a while, but eventually your competition will out-innovate you.
So the big question is: What is the right level of innovation? What is the correct compass setting for your business?
Typically, a 5-degree turn is too little while a 90-degree shift is too much. Forty-five degrees should be just about right.
What does a 45-degree turn look like? It is exploring how to tap into your existing market with new offerings, new services and new products, while also expanding into adjacent markets.
My business just turned 10 years old and I am in the process of rethinking my current model. As it stands today, I primarily convey my innovation messages via speeches and books. My objective in 2012 is to leverage my current intellectual assets by finding new ways of delivering my content.
For example, in 2012, I will be expanding the licensing of my content to corporations, training organizations and individuals who can deliver my work. The more I can tap into the reach of others, the more I can grow my business.
For this, I am not changing my message or products. I am primarily deepening the content and making the process of delivering it “replicable.” Instead of content changes, I am exploring different distribution channels such as eLearning systems, membership sites and other digital platforms.
Additionally, while others are delivering my content to my current target audience, I can explore how to extend my existing content to new, tangential markets. For example, my Personality Poker assessment tool has been largely focused on the corporate market. It can also, however, be positioned to provide value anywhere collaboration is beneficial: relationships, families, negotiations, ventures and so on. Expanding in these directions still positions me as a collaboration expert (a key component of innovation) and would most likely not alienate my core market…
Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum
(please leave comments on the AMEX site and “like” the article if you in fact like the article…thanks!)
September 22, 2011
In one week (September 29th), my new book will be available in book stores, online, and on the Kindle. It is published by Penguin’s Portfolio imprint. For those of you who are new to this blog, here’s a description…
Best Practices Are Stupid:
40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition
Well-intentioned leaders, in their attempts to boost innovation, are inadvertently destroying it.
What if everything you know about creating a culture of innovation is wrong? What if the way you are measuring innovation is choking it? What if your market research is asking all of the wrong questions?
It’s time to innovate the way you innovate.
In Best Practices Are Stupid, I offer forty counterintuitive yet proven strategies for boosting innovation and making it a repeatable, sustainable, and profitable process at the heart of your company’s culture. They include:
- Hire people you don’t like. Bring the right mix of people to unleash your team’s full potential.
- Asking for ideas is a bad idea. Define challenges more clearly. If you ask better questions, you will get better answers.
- Don’t think outside the box; find a better box. Instead of giving your employees a blank slate, provide them with well-define parameters that will increase their creative output.
- Failure is always an option. Looking at innovation as a series of experiments allows you to redefine failure and learn from your results.
I will show you that nonstop innovation is attainable and vital to building a high-performing team, improving the bottom line, and staying ahead of the pack.
Other powerful strategies include:
- The performance paradox. When organizations hyper focus on their goals, they are less likely to achieve those goals.
- Expertise is the enemy of innovation. The more you know about a particular topic, the more difficult it is for you to think about it in a different way.
- The Goldilocks principle. Challenges can’t be too big or too small. They must be “just right” to maximize the likelihood of a workable solution.
- Learn from Indiana Jones. Real treasure can be found when you leave your office, don your fedora and bullwhip, and study customers with your own two eyes.
- Use the reality TV show model. Competitions are as much about generating buzz and stimulating interest in innovation as they are about finding specific solutions.
You can pre-order NOW on any of these sites.