Pushing the Button Makes Me Feel Better

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Pushing the Button Makes Me Feel Better

Humans are easy to fake out.  If we are cold, we can adjust a thermostat (even one not attached to anything) and it will make us feel warmer.  If we are waiting to cross the street, we have been proven to be more patient if we can push a cross-walk button.  Even if it doesn’t affect wait time.

So, when all of these systems are controlled by computers, how will they manipulate our sense of control?  Will we mind?

Today, you can get a smart thermostat and you can make suggestions to it, expressing your opinions about your comfort level, but ultimately the device will decide.  What if other things in our life were like that?

What if our autonomous cars brought us to the doctor when it sensed a fever or to the police station to pay an outstanding parking ticket?  What if our wearable device took us on a longer walking route when we had the time in order to get extra steps and burned calories to achieve a calculated ideal weight as dictated by our insurance company?  What if an angrily-toned email was put into a mandatory “cool down” period hold before you could send it as outlined by our corporate cultural standards?  What if some future birth control, performance enhancing drugs, or the like was administered for the common good or to help you achieve some goals that you established?  What if some of these things happened when we believed we had more choice and control?  Where will be tomorrow’s fake button?

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Self-Service Business Strategy Consulting

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Self-Service Business Strategy Consulting

I recently saw a professional form Intuit’s innovation practice sit down with two start-up companies to offer mentoring and strategy counseling.  Instead of focusing on the answers and the discussions, I noted the questions he was asking and thought they might be an interesting playbook for others to run.  Ask yourself these questions, honestly and at a level that anyone from any industry could understand, and you will go a long way to clarify and refine your strategy for success.

  • What is the most important issue facing your business today?
  • For the audience you are targeting, what is their pain?
  • When you talk to customers what was unexpected?
  • Have you found anyone who has the pain you are looking to solve?
  • How big is the problem and how are customers solving it today?
  • Can you solve the problem once, get paid, and validate that it is a need?
  • Have you heard any red (or possibly yellow) flags from customers about their need for the product, their willingness to pay, etc?
  • Who can be a lighthouse account for you?
  • If the business didn’t work, what would be the reasons why?

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Looking for Pain

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Looking for Pain

In the States there is a class of attorneys known as “ambulance chasers.”  They follow accident victims to the hospital and offer their services to get justice or payment for their injuries.  I am not diminishing the role of personal injury cases and the legitimate rights of those victims, but those attorneys are looking for pain and suffering.  In fact, it fuels their business.

All of us in business have a similar need to look for the pain.  The most successful companies, and the products and services that they offer, address an unmet pain and solve it in a unique way.

As innovators and business strategists we should always be in the hunt for the pain. 

  • What costs too much?
  • What takes too long?
  • What ends too soon?
  • What can we not get enough of?
  • What do we have too much of?

These kind of questions, can lead to the insights that create new customers, new business models, new products, and fuel the enterprise into the future. 

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Twenty Seconds of Insane Courage

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Twenty Seconds of Insane Courage

"You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it." - Benjamin Mee, "We Bought a Zoo"

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The Importance of Plot

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The Importance of Plot

“Technology without a good experience is like movie special effects without a good story,” said Josh Goldblum from Blue Cadet at a recent conference.  Without a plot, the best special effects cannot save the film.  The best stories would be great no matter the medium. 

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Can You Afford Your Affordance?

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Can You Afford Your Affordance?

Thaniya Keereepart, who runs the business of TED on apps, recently spoke about the use of design principles to change the way we interact with each other. 

She explained the idea of affordance.  It’s a user design idea that the look of something tells you how to use it.  A door knob or dial tells you to turn.  A button was designed to be pushed.  A handle to be grasped. 

The same could be true of people.  She says that the language we use in an email, the posture we assume in a meeting, and the space we take up in the room can all impact how people interact with us. 

Just like design begins with objectives, if each of us asked ourselves “what do we want?” and “how do I want to come across?” before meetings or presentations, we would likely get better results.

There are dozens of books about executive presence and TED talks about goal setting, language, and power, if you need some inspiration.

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Rights vs. Needs

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Rights vs. Needs

I am hearing a lot of talk of what constitutes basic human rights.  I have heard things like freedom of travel, access to state-of-the-art health care, access to clean water, a safe and comfortable home, basic education, higher education, and voting for political officials all listed as rights.  And it has led me to have some questions?

Is every human need a right?  If human needs for food and water are rights, what about other needs?

I have been told that humans need to laugh.  Is this a right? The freedom to find things funny.  Or do they have the right to have someone else make them laugh.  To pay for other human services, I am taxed.  What if it was demanded that I tell jokes to make my fellow citizens feel better?  Ridiculous, you say.  But this illustrates the perils of making a long list of things and calling them “rights.”

What about the need for safety?  Is that a right?  What is the role of the individual in this, if they engage in risky behaviors?  Safety is both a reality and a perception that spans a great deal of arenas from seat belts to street lamps.

What about sex?  Is it a need?  Is that need a right?  When does one person’s right to satisfy a need impact another’s rights?  How does one person’s right to sex conflict with others’ right to safety?

What about privacy?  Is it a right?  Clearly we don’t believe this in practice, because I think there are laws against not giving your children social security numbers or keeping them out of school (of some type) which requires them to have certain personal details disclosed.  So, in this case the right to welfare services and public education are in conflict with our right to privacy?  We give up privacy all the time (some saying effectively killing the whole idea of privacy), in exchange for convenience, services, or even safety. 

What about property ownership?  Our economy is based in no small part on the sanctity of property ownership, but what can be owned?  This has been debated for centuries and we rightly settled that you can’t own people (which was accepted for an unacceptable number of millennia and still is in some places and is more common in developed countries than we want to admit).  But we can own plants, farms, livestock, and pets.  We can own real property and equipment.  We can own (even fractional) legal entities that aren’t really alive, like corporations.  We can own contractual rights to thing that we don’t own (like stock options, etc.).  Are all these rights?  So, does that mean these things are needs?  Do we have a need to own things?  And whose job is it to satisfy that need?  Do you need to be given things or do you have the right to earn them?

For a whole host of reasons, humans need to be treated well by our parents.  We need to be fed, spoke to, and taught how to function in the world.  It’s a need.  Is it a right?  We act like it is with child protective services, the foster care system, and child protection laws (all good things).  So, if it is a right for kids, does it become an obligation for parents?  In order to drive, you have to prove that you have the ability to not be a harm to others and that you have the means (insurance at least) to drive.  Because people have the right to be safe as pedestrians and other drivers.  But the same isn’t true of parenting.  A parent’s right to making choices can be in direct conflict to their kids’ right to safety and a host of human rights.

We all have the right (mostly) to manage our own reproduction and so much has been written about this recently in the news.  But that right has consequences.  Where does right end and privilege begin if people are horrible parents and infringe upon the rights of their off-spring?

Regarding the right to your own body, what about exercise?  Our bodies certainly need it.  But is it the freedom to exercise that is our right or should we mandate exercise the way we do other things (i.e., like school attendance or lunch breaks for hourly workers). 

You see what I mean.  This “rights” versus “needs” is tricky.  And it is further complicated by the fact that we live in an interdependent community. 

Just like we need to be careful calling “wants” “needs” and confusing the ideas, I feel like we need to take the same caution with “rights” and “needs.”  Maybe, all we have the right to in the end is the freedom to satisfy our own needs in a way that doesn’t diminish others’ rights to satisfy their needs.  This all sounds good enough, but it is very difficult in practice.  Especially, in a world where shocking headlines of “rights violations” can keep citizens from thinking critically about the implications of a society of having so many rights and where they conflict in practice.

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On Experience

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On Experience

“Information is pre-digested experience.  Experience is messy, wasteful, and takes time.” - Chris Dede, Harvard

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Lost and Found

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Lost and Found

Shel Silverstein was a childhood favorite of our family and some of his poems have taken on deeper meaning as I have gotten older.  In light of the changes underway in my life and career, one of his poems has inspired one of my own - a parallel poem about losing and finding.

Losing Pieces by Shel Silverstein

  Talked my head off.

  Walked my tail off.

  Cried my eyes out.

  Walked my feet off.

  Sang my heart out.

  So you see,

  There's really not much left of me.
 

Finding Me by Jennifer Davis

  Found community in conversation.

  Marshalled courage in work.

  Discovered gratitude in tears.

  Uncovered strength in the journey.

  Expressed joy in the song.

  So you see,

  In losing pieces, I may find me.

 

Photo credit: Randy Y

This article originally appeared in LinkedIn Pulse.

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Body Blows Versus Body Surfing

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Body Blows Versus Body Surfing

There is a fine difference between taking a body blow by an incoming wave and body surfing.  The waves are the same.  The environment is the same.  The difference is your position to the wave. 

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The Shade of the Decade

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The Shade of the Decade

You can tell when a photo or video is from the 1970’s.  Like the leather goods of the period, the photos have a sepia tint.  Earthy, brown tones rule.  Due to the aging of the film development materials or the state of video capture science of the time, these pages particularly don’t age well and have a distinctive look.

It makes me wonder what the shade of this decade will be when we reflect on it 40 years from now.

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On Customer Input

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On Customer Input

Customer input results not only in insights into functionality, price, and features, but in empathy. Empathy is much more valuable.

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Patience Equals Mastery

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Patience Equals Mastery

Singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, in her book “Sounds Like Me,” talked about the music making process.

“I have learned over the years that ‘not knowing’ is part of the beauty of making music, and that vocabulary is important, but not crucial in communication.  Only patience is crucial in communication.  Recording is exploration.  You take a piece of music and excavate, searching for the shape of the song wants to take in the moment.  You use wonderful musicians, producers, and engineers who help you navigate those waters and hopefully also help you remember that it doesn’t have to feel precious or scary.  You try things that don’t work as you hunt for what does.  And sometimes you even find it.”

Life is a bit like that.  Learning anything is an act of faith and mastery is an act of patience.
 

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The Rate of Change

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The Rate of Change


I remember talking to my grandpa about the amount of change he had seen in his life, which spanned the center of the 1900’s.  He would tell me about the novelty of plastic bags (where you could see what was inside without opening the bag – crazy!) and freeways (they overlapped each other just like a Buck Rogers’ cartoon).  Fast forward to 2017 and the pace of change is just that: fast forwarding.  Futurist Maurice Conti predicts that in the next 20 years, there will be more change to our work than in the last 2,000 years.
 

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How Leaders Can Promote Privacy, Safety and Truth

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How Leaders Can Promote Privacy, Safety and Truth

We are in a transition of truthfulness. Technology has changed the way we think about what’s real and what’s been modified – creating blurry lines between perceptions and reality.

For example, credit card “safety” no longer includes a traditional pillar of safety – privacy. Credit card safety is now achieved through predictive analytics and constant monitoring of purchases; quite the opposite of privacy.

Technology has modified how we perceive safety with car services – for many of us, a navigation and tracking system like the ones found in popular ride-sharing services makes us feel safer than a taxi driver who has passed a background safety check. It is hard to determine which is the more authentic version of safety.

Another example of how technology has modified the truth is photo filters. With the touch of a button, a photo can easily be manipulated and shared with millions of people. While a flower crown or a puppy face is a fun addition for social media pictures, what happens when filtered photos are presented as real and passed around social media channels, gaining legitimacy with every click, like and share? Combined with our ever-decreasing attention spans and memories that are increasingly dependent on the content we share via social media, and photo filters become a variation on reality, an inch further from an authenticity.

As we move away from privacy and authenticity and become easily modifiable, we lose the honesty and benefits of being honest – trust, reliability, loyalty. Without honesty, companies lose their personal connection to buyers, their internal teams are not efficient, and their business partnerships don’t last. Loyalty becomes obsolete. As business leaders, it is our responsibility to encourage truth so that honesty is a core value to our internal team and our customers.

How can we encourage honesty within our organization? By removing the pitfalls that distort reality and creating opportunities for genuineness.

Create a safe place

I don’t mean an office that meets required occupational safety standards, I mean an environment that is a safe place for people to learn and grow in their roles. Encourage colleagues to share their mistakes, how they overcame the mistake and the lessons they learned. Help teammates teach each other by encouraging them to provide constructive feedback in a productive way. Focus on problem solving, and not blaming individuals, to help the team develop integrity. As the leader, it is also important for you to disclose your own mistakes and lessons learned to help the team recognize that mistakes as learning opportunities and not punishments.

Empower employees

People feel more empowered when they are trusted. Give your team assignments and deadlines, time to work and the ability to ask questions, then give them space to do their job. Eliminating micromanagement practices help employees feel  respected and motivated to complete their work while building pride and integrity.

Do not make promises that can be broken

Your words have tremendous value, so don’t sacrifice them. As a business leader, you have the knowledge and experience to anticipate potential problems. Review business plans with a watchful eye on timing and pricing, guarantees and other promises customers will count on. Set realistic expectations with your internal team about promotions, raises and bonuses. Do not give lip service to the executive team. Breaking promises, resetting expectations and over committing leads to disappointment, which deteriorates trust and your words lose their value and your reputation as reliable.

Don’t sacrifice values

Honesty is perhaps best tested in crisis. Leading with honesty and truthfulness to do the right thing, even if it’s extra work or the outcome is intimating. If the crisis is handled with honesty, the virtue of honesty will be stronger than ever when its resolved. If you try to cover up the crisis, a downward spiral of dishonesty and lies will begin.

Be transparent

This doesn’t mean disclose classified or time-sensitive information, but be upfront in a timely, open manner. If the product is delayed, be truthful about when it will be delivered. If a service is cancelled, offer a reliable alternative. If expectations for a product or service can’t be met, don’t try to conceal the situation. Challenges will be overcome, but an untrustworthy reputation is nearly impossible to overcome. Being transparent creates a culture of honesty where rumors cannot thrive and truthfulness raises to the top.

Be consistent

One of the most obvious indicators of untruthfulness is inconsistency. As Mark Twain said “if you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” While important aspects can be tailored to each audience/group, putting truthfulness at the forefront of every conversation will leave no room for doubt. Consistency is a key aspect of building and maintaining trust.

Be authentic

When you think about mentors and leaders that have resonated with you the most, you will likely notice a common theme – the most aspirational people we encounter have shown us their true selves. Be that relatable person for your team; transparent and filter-free without pretense or ulterior motives.

In our pursuit of honesty, we can help create more defined lines between perceptions and reality. We develop into a more trust-worthy company, which helps build customer loyalty and in turn, helps our products and services succeed.

This article was originally posted on Leaders In Heels: Career Lessons.

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Recipe for a Career: is it a main dish or side vegetable?

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Recipe for a Career: is it a main dish or side vegetable?

As a student and practitioner of career planning, I am always in search of the definition of a successful career.  What enables success and how is it defined?

I was reading Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, recently and stumbled across her brilliant definition. 

"Career is the stringing together of opportunities and jobs.  Mix in public opinion and past regrets.  Add a dash of future panic and a whole lot of financial uncertainty.  Career is something that fools you into thinking you are in control and then takes pleasure in reminding you that you aren't.  Career is the think that will not fill you up and never make you truly whole.  Depending on your career is like eating cake for breakfast and wondering why you start crying an hour later." 

I think she touches on something that each one of us has to wrestle with in our careers: is it going to be our life’s main dish (something that defines you) or is it a nutritious vegetable (something you do because you need to)?  Or, for the lucky ones, is it dessert?  Something you choose to do because it is sweet and makes the whole meal better?
 

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