May 6, 2016
Know Your Limits
Most people recognize that as they get older they start to slow down; or at least their bodies start to slow down. There’s less they can do and there are more things slowly seizing up. Recently I had a friend jokingly comment that they were ok with the minor aches and pains, and the crick in their neck was not that big a deal because as they said, “Hey, I’m 53 now and things are starting to break down.”
As they get older people start to understand their bodies better as well as getting smarter about what they do. In short, they know their limits. Maybe it’s not staying up as late, not eating everything they want, or not jumping into that pickup basketball game like they used to. As a result of this self-imposed limiting they are able to do more and do it better. This seems counterintuitive. Self-limiting should mean less gets done and more experiences are lost right? In reality, once they start restricting themselves and understanding their own limits they can push themselves within those boundaries and experience life more fully. I find this truth to be insightful for many other aspects of life as well, both personally and professionally.
Let me share what I mean. I titled the post Know Your Limits. I tossed around several different ideas but finally settled on this. Originally I wanted to express the idea of self-awareness and how knowing what you were good at would equate to being capable of doing things excellently. Ultimately being excellent, being known for doing excellently is important to our feelings of self-worth and personal value. We want others to recognize our talents and skills. We want to feel as though we’re accomplishing something worthwhile and in our hearts we want to feel that we are providing value to those around us. This lead me down the path thinking about what helps us accomplish those feelings.
I began to think about the next logical level from the end result of doing something with excellence. How do we do something excellent? Well we have to be able to do it “right”. There’s usually two ways of doing something ‘right’ – either through training or natural ability. However, even those natural abilities and talents need to be cultivated and refined. This requires work and time spent improving, tweaking, adjusting our practice until the end result is clean, polished, and excellent.
Next in the progression involves looking at how many different things we’re working on. Why is this important? I’m glad you asked. As I just shared, every talent or ability requires work and time. Time. I’ve talked about it frequently on my blog in the past because of the critical role it plays in everything we do and every journey we undertake. And here again we see time becoming an integral factor in our path to excellence. If we recognize that time is the only asset we can’t beg, borrow, steal, store, or create more of then we need to think about all those way we are consuming it. This means we have to consider how many different things we’re working on and the time required to be excellent. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the commonly shared almost anecdotal 10,000 hours rule. If not, a quick Google search will reveal a number of helpful posts on the subject. I’m not going to question the legitimacy of the post, or the specifics of the claim. But it provides a good basis to help shape our thinking.
10,000 hours. If we look at the average life expectancy we find there are approximately 689,412 hours in life. We then find that we spend about 90,228 hours working in a typical life. If we ignore the fact that there are probably a dozen other demands on our time even at this somewhat unrealistic view of our time we still only have approximately 9 things we can truly master in a lifetime. (90,228/10,000 hours). Wow. That is not a lot. And yet, how many of us, myself included are trying to be excellent at dozens (if not more) of different things? We believe we can beat the system and be excellent at everything we do. Some of this is natural human optimism. But if we can recognize this temptation to be overly optimistic and idealistic then we can begin to cultivate and refine our talents in a more achievable way.
And so we return to the title of this post and the goal we want to accomplish. In order to be excellent, in order to do things right, in order to be successful we have to recognize and build the right foundation. We have to know our limits.
It’s incredibly hard to be this self-aware. In business it’s incredibly hard to stay focused on those few areas where you can truly be excellent. As you get closer to achieving excellence others will begin to recognize your differences and your ability to rise above. When they do they’ll begin to use and promote you and your brand…and they’ll want you to solve all their problems. This is the trap many fall into. Those problems will start to creep outside those areas you have focused on and become excellent in performing. If you know your limits and the limits of your business you’ll be prepared to answer these requests the right way. Of course there are ways your business will continue to grow and adapt and become better but prepare your customers by making them aware of what they are requesting and your current abilities in those areas. Share your limits. Don’t be afraid to grow but also don’t be afraid to share your current strengths and weaknesses. Your customer’s will respect and appreciate that even in this you are doing things excellently.
Let me know if as you have read this post you’ve thought of other ways knowing your limits is beneficial to your success. I think the concept of time management, efficiency, and self-awareness are all critical elements for ultimately being excellent. Are there important elements? Are there other benefits to being self-aware and knowing your own limits? I look forward to seeing what you think.
April 28, 2016
A Pyramid Scheme for Startups
Most startups traditionally all want to approach the market in a similar way. Scratching an itch. Starting with a great idea. Focusing on fixing a problem that the entrepreneur has personally experienced or seen. This is common. And certainly nothing wrong with this way for getting started. Ultimately you have to feel passionately about the problem you’re trying to solve; the pain you want to alleviate.
If you didn’t have this deep-seated desire there’s no need joy in the task you’re undertaking. But too many times (I’m learning this too as I talk with others) this is the sole foundation and focus of the business. When this personal perspective is the only focus of the startup there will be a struggle. So how does a startup grow beyond this phase? What’s the better approach to take for a successful business?
As I learned from a good friend there is a simple diagram which can be immensely helpful in creating this structure. I call it a pyramid scheme for startups. Only this pyramid scheme is highly beneficial and immensely helpful. And totally legal.
I’ll start by giving you the picture and then digging into it a bit to better explain each level and what it looks like from a couple different perspectives.
How the marketing uses the pyramid
First, we want to look at this pyramid scheme from the position of the marketer. The marketer needs to create the branding and marketing message for the organization. They have to start with the core and work out. In this role they need to take this pyramid, start at the top, and work their way outwards (or down).
A good marketer recognizes they must begin by identifying what the company is (What we are). Once they have a good handle on the “why” for the business; they align with the company goals and objectives; and then they shift their focus to be slightly more broad and begin to create the marketing message. This marketing message should point people to what the business does and funnel traffic “upstream” into the what and why statement.
We’re Different. Here’s How.
Continuing downward the marketer then begins to build on this marketing message into some of the specific ways in which the business is different from the competition. This is the differentiating aspect of the marketing message. Again, this stage is broader still in the overall marketing context and begins to include other sources, the general market space, and a broader reach.
The broadest and most generic marketing message is the bottom of the pyramid. The last part a marketer builds out and focuses on revolves around the practical application of the business/product to an audience. How the customer would use the product.
An interesting point you’ll notice as the marketer builds this pyramid from highly specific (company-focused) to very broad (audience-focused) there begins to form a number of different “channels” or as more commonly known “verticals”. This can be easily shown in the pyramid with the following minor addition.
What you’ll see is with the addition of these vertical markets the marketer continues to funnel everything upwards into a single core message and becoming more company-centric and refined.
It’s a brilliant way of thinking about the marketing message. I think it represents similar concepts to what you’ll find if you look at Simon Sinek’s presentation on Start with Why. Which incidentally is also one of my personal biggest influences. I’ve written on that topic time and again. But this is only one part of the equation.
How sales uses the pyramid
We can take this same pyramid structure and look at it through the eyes of the salesperson. If we start from a sales standpoint we have to approach the situation from the opposite direction
The reason for this is simple but let’s walk through it anyways as an exercise. First, when you’re approaching a business from a sales perspective you have to start from a common point. The best salesperson recognizes that instead of yelling about what makes the business great the best way to begin involves listening. A salesperson that listens first to a customer, understands and helps identify pain points is going to have a much easier job providing a solution that solves specific problems.
You have to listen first.
This approach of listening and identifying pain points means simply identifying how the business/product would be most effectively used by the customer (aka the bottom of the pyramid). This is a critical step. This lays the foundation for the relationship and helps the salesperson reach the broadest possible audience. Keep in mind the verticals we discussed previously. Listening to the pain points and identifying use-cases means targeting a specific vertical path from the bottom of the pyramid.
Secondly, once the customer recognizes and relates to the pain points and how they would use the solution the salesperson can continue to refine the sales message to begin to highlight key differences between the product and the competition. This is still the differentiating step, but specifically as it relates to the pain points previously identified.
Relate to your customers
The third step is the relational step. At this level in the pyramid the salesperson takes the differentiating factors and leverages those along with the pain points to relate to the customer. Here the interests of the customer need to be aligned with the solutions provided by the company. This is the “caring” level where the customer begins to see in a semi-focused manner why this particular company will uniquely be able to help them.
Finally, the last step in the sales process is where the company can share a bit more of their personal message, culture, and experience. This is where the company can open up a bit. Note, that you don’t want this to occur too early in the relationship but rather be saved until the connection has been made and the basis for a relationship formed.
I hope you find this helpful to think about as you work within your company (really any stage company can probably benefit from this). Keep these principles in mind as you build your marketing strategy and your sales strategy. Focus your time and efforts where they matter most. Of course this isn’t a perfect picture and there are ways this could be improved upon both generally and also in specific company use cases.
As I’m learning and thinking on these things I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Have you found a particular pyramid or other diagram that helps identify and organize your thoughts around preparing a marketing message (sales traffic) besides the funnel. Because, yes, I’ve seen enough funnels to last a lifetime.
February 4, 2015
September 19, 2014
No, I don’t mean physically stretch (though that’s important also!) I mean mentally, personally, internally stretch yourself. Life can be easy at times. Following the same routine and the same day-to-day activities and performing the same job with consistency can be easy. Easy in the sense that you get comfortable with the schedule. You will find yourself beginning to relax a bit in the every day. Sure, maybe you shake things up by eating dinner a bit later on Friday night or you order something slightly different from that little lunch place you visit every Wednesday. These are minor little differences in an otherwise same routine.
This relaxed and casual life can lead to complacency. You get comfortable and you neglect to improve yourself. You quit striving for better things or you stop worrying about trying to accomplish your goals. Maybe you think you’ll get to it tomorrow but telling yourself you’ll get to it the next day soon becomes just part of the routine. Eventually you’ll even get tired of saying the words and you’ll just ignore it all together. I encourage you to stretch yourself. Here’s what I mean.
Do something different
I don’t mean different like a new lunch choice; I mean different like a different ethnicity for your lunch choice. Go to a place you’ve never been and perhaps would never think to go. That’s different. Stretch yourself to look beyond what’s comfortable and what you are familiar with and ry something different. Maybe you have an incredibly sensitive stomach and different foods are simply impossible. Or maybe you don’t have anything close you can try. Find something else you can do different. Take a different way to work and don’t use your phone to give you the directions. Find your way. There was a time not too long ago when we had to use little GPS units created specifically to help us (remember those large blocks with 2 1/2 inch screens?). And it wasn’t too long before that when we didn’t have anything but those giant paper maps (which I could never really fold back the right way). There’s a sense of excitement with trying to find the way to get somewhere without following the same, old, beaten path. Do something different.
Learn from someone else
Learning from someone else means finding someone different from you. Don’t seek our your coworker who you’ve known for a half-dozen years and has shared every detail of their life with you already. Seek out someone else. It doesn’t have to be a deep and lasting connection. Maybe you’re incredibly shy and you don’t like to speak to others. I get that. I’m a bit of an introvert too. You can learn from someone else without even engaging in conversation with them (though I encourage you to do so as it’s definitely the best). You can also just listen to others talk, or watch how they interact. You can learn from how they perform a task or interact with others. Everyone is unique and has different life experiences. The stories they have and the memories they have made in their life time are vastly different from your own. And you can stretch yourself by learning from them. Push your own thinking and your own views and opinions by seeing life through someone else’s eyes.
Show unexpected kindness
The keyword in this last idea is unexpected. It’s easy to show kindness to someone who is our friend or family. We naturally want to please them and be kind to them. But unexpected kindness means seeking out someone that does not expect your kindness. Be generous with your time. Maybe even generous with your money. Showing unexpected kindness stretches you in several ways. In fact, it helps you as you do something different or learn from someone else. In addition it causes you to stretch yourself with what you would normally do or how you would normally spend your time or money. And trust me-the feeling you’ll receive by showing kindness to someone is unmatched. The challenge exists of course to find someone to whom to be kind. This challenge leaves you looking. Searching for someone to demonstrate a random act of kindness towards…and this will stretch you. It will awaken you from the steady stupor we so easily sink into from the routine of life.
There are an almost innumerable list of benefits you can receive by stretching yourself. You can improve your attitude. You can improve your life. More importantly you can improve your world. Taking the time to wake up, smell the coffee, and stretch will make you enjoy life more. And who knows. You may change someone’s day, or even their life through what you do.
August 14, 2014
Knowing When To Pivot
The idea of pivoting in a business is one of those things not thought of when things are running smooth and business is growing. Often its not until things start “slipping” do you start to hear the rumblings of a “pivot” in the works. What is a pivot? Why should a business pivot? And when should a business pivot? Let’s see if we can answer those three questions.
What is a pivot?
The first question I want to look at is the background, definition, and meaning of a pivot in business. The first thought which comes to my mind is the analogy of a basketball player. If you’re familiar with the sport at all then you’re aware that once you’ve picked up the ball (after dribbling) you are no longer allowed to move both your feet. You’re only allowed to move one or the other. This action is called a pivot. You can pick up one foot but the other must remain firmly planted where it was originally placed.
Business pivots I like to imagine are quite similar. A pivot is when a business identifies its core business is not completely meeting its needs (for a variety of reasons which we’ll see in the answers to our next questions). What a business may choose to do then is to pivot the focus of its business slightly to something different. Similar to the basketball pivot I like to imagine the business keeps one “foot” firmly planted in the culture, goal, and objectives upon which it was founded. Now that we have a basic understanding of a pivot let’s look at the reasons why a business might pivot.
Why should a business pivot?
Business pivots are difficult decisions to make. Sometimes they may be gut-wrenchingly hard. But they can be a necessary part of a business’s evolutionary process. Sometimes it’s the only way for a business to survive. Knowing what a pivot it we need to understand the reasons why you’d want to perform a pivot. Here’s a couple to get us started.
Pivot because market shift
Sometimes in the course of business the market will shift away from what you’ve been doing. This is a common reason especially in the technology industry. The current trends change so quickly it becomes very difficult to keep up with trends and if you’re not vigilant your market can shift away from you seemingly overnight.
Pivot to refocus on core purpose
Another useful time for performing a pivot is when you realize you are not accomplishing your goals or your core purpose. Stop and think about why you got into business. Are those reasons what still motivate you to get up and go each day? Does your team believe what you do is accomplishing your goal? If not then it might be time to consider a pivot.
When should a business pivot?
You may notice that the last sentence of the previous paragraph brought up our next point. It might be time to consider a pivot. If we know what a pivot is and why a business might consider a pivot the last question we’re going to ask today is when should that be done? This is certainly the most difficult question. Along with a pivot comes change.
Many people (customers, community, team members) are averse to the idea of change. Change causes us to stretch ourselves and possibly lose the comfort zone we’ve settled in to. (Ironically this might be the very reason why a pivot is necessary).
Pivot on time
Too many times a pivot comes too late. Business has already lost the market (see the reasons above) or the community, team members have lost the core value and begun leaving the company. A pivot is difficult to time because some of us don’t like change and secondly it’s just plain hard to do. But constantly analyzing and studying the market and the reasons why you do what you do will help you spot early on when a pivot is necessary.
Pivot when necessary
No, that’s not an easy-out type of answer. The truth is you should perform a pivot when it’s necessary. Timing is key and the only way to know when a pivot becomes necessary is if you stay alert and attentive. Don’t get lazy. Don’t be over-active either. The best thing you can do is to be consistent and be constantly pro-actively growing. When you notice shifts that would require a change-pivot. Don’t pivot just because you are bored with the current business environment.
The easy answer is to pivot when your business has faded, but I would suggest this is too late. Be proactive but don’t be over-active. Don’t change for the sake of change but at the same time don’t avoid change because it’s hard. Pivoting when done right can take a business to the next level and keep you successful for many years to come. Know when to pivot.