Several years ago, my young daughter was helping me organize my work office after a move down the hall. The stacks of business books that I had accumulated over the years (and referred to periodically and wanted to keep handy) promised us a very long evening. Then I considered explaining to her how to organize them, by theme or if we should painstakingly alphabetize them. It occurred to us that the easiest (and dare I say, the fastest) way would be to organize them by spine color in rainbow series. Red book covers lead to orange, then yellow, green, blue, purple, and then white and, finally, black. It took only a few minutes to organize the books this way and it had a few surprising and pleasant consequences.
It turned the practical into art: I can’t tell you how many people have walked into my office and commented on my books. “Did you organize your books by color?” they would ask as they smiled. This library of business books became an art installation which people wanted to talk about. It really does look great and brings a smile to my face, and to office guests, every time. Books became a conversation piece and helped my guests and colleagues get to know me better, not just because of the titles on the shelf, but how they were arranged. And I can tell you that I really like authors who write red books and orange books are trending.
It made things easier to find: Come to find out, I can rarely remember the exact title or the name of the author, but 9 times out of 10 I can picture a book’s cover. This narrows the search considerably and within a few seconds I have the volume in hand. I know others’ might not have this kind of visual memory, but I suspect many of us do. Forget the Dewey Decimal System, this is the hue-ey decimal system (I couldn’t resist). This is especially useful as I have recently relocated across the country to Atlanta, and found it was easy (and fun) to set up my home office for maximum productivity using this now familiar system.
It sparked my imagination: As art often does, my book arrangement sparked new ideas. I am working now on a system to organize my Outlook calendar to align appointments, meetings, and blocked time to my goals using color cues. For me, new business development work is green, one big project is yellow, family priorities are purple, and, naturally, any time spent building out my new network in Atlanta is red (the ubiquitous color of the Falcons, Hawks, Atlanta United, UGA, GSU, and classic Atlanta brands like Coca-Cola, Chick-Fil-A, and newcomer, Honeywell…need I go on?). Perhaps for the freelancer or consultant reading this article any paid “billable hour” work is blue and any office work is orange. You can do this manually or using conditional formatting, it can be done auto-magically as you create or accept calendar entries. You can use a more sophisticated time or task tracking tool (like a CRM) for even more insights. Turning my calendar into a visual dashboard of how I am spending my time is generating new insights and changing my behavior. The adage is true that you manage what you measure. Try it yourself and at a glance, you can see if you are investing your time – your most precious and limited commodity – fully to your goals and priorities.
Now you might be asking a different question: why do I hold on to these physical books in a world of instant Internet searches, ebook readers, and, frankly, when often the Harvard Business Review synopsis of the book is better than the long form? It is because I know it works for me. I like books. I dog-ear the pages and write in the margins. Sure, I sometimes snap quotes into Evernote for future blog posts, but in the meantime, I like them stacked on my night stand and standing in a colorful array in my office.
And, I hope that one day when I write my New York Times best seller, you will all still have bookshelves, maybe even sorted by color, and will appreciate the hue of the book jacket I chose.
“Only a mediocre person is always at his best.” – W. Somerset Maugham, Playwright
According to extensive research into success and performance, each one of us approaches our work with a unique formula. When we are at our best, we tap into some natural talents, abilities, or experiences that we have honed. In his book, StrengthFinders, Tom Rath uses Gardner's research and outlines 34 themes or traits that show up in different combinations in these success recipes.
I recently took mine again and was amazed at the consistency from previous times I have taken the assessments under different circumstances, in different cities, and for different purposes. It seems that each of us have a "go to" recipe that becomes our signature dish.
Mine are Strategic, Maximizer, Positivity, Activator, and WOO (winning others over). This time Communication made it back onto the list as well.
So, what do these mean?
For me, they combine to create this recipe.
I see the big picture. I know how to make it better. I am positive it will work.
How soon can we start? Who's with me?
When I first articulated this, a long-time colleague joked that this was the pattern of most of the emails she received from me. I suspect she was right.
Those familiar with the assessments know that one of my themes is in the Strategic Thinking category, one is in Relationship Building, and three are in Influencing. Using my kitchen analogy, this represents my balance of salty and sweet. The Strategic and Maximizer seek out data, insight, and analysis until actionable patterns begin to emerge. Those patterns build confidence with Positivity and momentum with Activator. Activator also indicates my comfort with (and, frankly, need for) experimentation. We often can only start with a minimum viable offering or a test, but that then informs our strategy and our confidence for further investments. And throughout, with communication and influence, I am "Winning Others Over" (WOO). Creating the motivation to bring customers or colleagues in alignment with the new vision.
I can point to dozens and dozens of examples in my career where my recipe delivered great results. It is the common theme up and down my resume. Not everyone would have approached the problems or situations in the same way, and in fact, those perspectives are critical for strategic planning and action (and must be actively sought out, especially from those who are quiet in group settings or need more time for analysis). But underlying the successes is a creativity, energy, and conviction that prompts people to action and helps the business achieve more than it thought it could. It's my winning formula. It's my signature dish.
What is yours? I am curious to know what others have found in their StrengthsFinders assessments and how they are utilizing it to play more to their strengths every day.
Next week, I am attending a workshop where this and other assessments will combine to create a clearer picture of purpose and vision. For someone who likes to see the big picture and collaborate towards making things better, this is perfect. It just can't come soon enough.
“You can’t have a good day with a bad attitude, and you can’t have a bad day with good attitude.” – Brian Kutchma
For more on the importance of a good attitude, read From the Inside Out: What To Do When the Air Gets Dense.
Here are a few technology trends I am following. By no means an exhaustive list, so I would love to hear more about what you are hearing about, especially coming out of CES, ISE, SXSW, and other recent events.
Ultra-Fast Charge, High Capacity Batteries: This is the key to the end of the combustion engine. A world where torque reigns and the electric vehicle is in every garage (or at the end of every Lyft call). At the end of last year, Toshiba announced a 200 mile battery that charges in 6 minutes, and although this one doesn’t appear to be out of the lab yet, every multi-industrial and every car company seems to be investing here. The implications of this shift not only change industries, but our environment and travel practices as well. But perhaps we won’t be ACTUALLY going anywhere if the next trend catches on.
Augmented Reality/Mixed Reality: Before we go virtually landing aircraft in our living room or visiting the Louve from Los Angeles, I have seen some great practical applications for the technology in technical field repair work and training. I also love the application of virtual reality for architecture, as despite our technology advances, humans as a species have a very difficult time visualizing. We simply can’t imagine what a carpet tile will look like replicated across our entire office space or how a vaulted ceiling will “feel” once it is installed. We had great success with this kind of visualization tools (here is an example) at my previous company, who wanted you to know what your space (or one like it) would look like with a big video wall installed. So, before we replace our physical world with some dystopian future where people in grim warehouses think they live in luxury due to their headsets, I think we can build and maintain a more beautiful and functional world using these new tools.
Light Field Technology: Related to the category above, light field technology has a promise to change the way virtual images show up in the real world. MagicLeap gave the world a holiday present with it’s long leaked and teased light field technology, but as someone who came from the display world, the core science here is very interesting and will spark a whole lot of innovation before we are done. Check out what Leia (named less for the princess than after her “Obi Won Kenobi, you are our only hope” hologram in the Star Wars movie) is working on or geek out on some of the technical papers of the Society for Information Display.
Motion Capture: I loved the pioneering work that OptiTrack does here (full disclosurer: I was with Planar and Leyard when we acquired the company in 2017). I also love how the optical science was originally inspired as a method for mouse replacement for a disabled family member of the then teen-aged founder/inventor, who earlier had won a science competition at 12 years old for building a hoverboard, but I digress. Now, technology of this type is used for motion science research, as well as Hollywood productions and gaming that is changing the realism of what we see. And all because we found a way to sensor up real motion so that we could build better models.
Internet of Things: I would be remiss to list out a technologies to watch list without listing this ubiquitous term that is underlying the growth of companies from start-ups in garages to industrial giants like GE and Honeywell. That said, I think that IoT should probably stand for the “instrumentation of everything.” Why would you use a camera technology (however sophisticated it might be) to identify intruders, when you could use the door, window, or floor covering itself? Why would you need a refrigerator to tell you whether your fruit has spoiled when your robot chef has already taken inventory and is whipping up a batch of banana bread? Why not prevent tripping or falls (which account for more injuries and deaths each year as the population in developed countries ages) with lights triggered by personal beacons and air bags on stairways? With modern day processing and sensors literally in everything, it will be awesome to see what simple solutions arise to real problems.
Artificial Intelligence: This buzz word is SO buzzy that it has spun-out a few additional buzz words to clutter the landscape: deep learning, machine learning, and data science. It is the underlying technology behind self-driving cars and trucks and will be very disruptive to the logistics industry overall. It is an arm’s race not just between companies and research universities, but between countries. Even content, like news articles or promotional videos, will be created auto-magically using these new tools (and their new friends in natural-language generation, video, image manipulation, and 3D modeling).
Fake News: Okay this is a trick one. It really isn’t a technology, but one enabled by a collection of inter-related technologies. We hate fake news. As a marketer, I particularly dislike “smoke and mirrors” pre-releases that feature only Photoshop wizardry, photorealistic 3D renderings, and the promise of things not yet possible. Add to that VoCo which allows you to “Photoshop” your voice to sound like anything or anyone. It is amazing how the technology is advancing. We can’t tell the filtered from the real anymore and with folks like Adobe leading the charge, this will only get harder. This is one to watch as it will change (and has changed) the need for media literacy and the nearly impossible ability we will have to discern it. But maybe with our sensored world, we will just trust the data and skim the news.
To be clear, it is not hard to build a brand. Well, it’s not complicated, at least. It is infuriatingly simple. You only have to let people know why they should care about what you do. It’s as simple as that. Yet, building a brand, and maintaining it, in a noisy world is increasingly difficult and requires some of the best-run companies in the world to invest billions of dollars to ensure that people know what they stand for. Standing is no longer enough. You have to stand out in a sea of others standing.
You don’t want your brand to be a wallflower, the company who no one notices at the dance until it slips away into obscurity. Your brand doesn’t need to be irreverent or brash, but it can’t be shy. It needs self-confidence. It needs to know why it is unique and why it deserves attention. If your brand lacks the courage to be itself, then you might need to mature it. For companies small and large, and even for individuals, this comes down to two things: Clarity and Conviction
Clarity: If you want people to know about your company, products, services, and people, you need to know your brand well enough to introduce it at a cocktail party. What is the one thing that makes it special among the “next best alternatives” in your category? What is it’s value and why are customers willing to pay? Why does it deserve the market share you aspire to? If you have more than one answer about this question, you have more work to do. I love the timeless introduction to Steve Jobs’ speech to introduce the “Think Different” campaign as it speaks to the link between values and brand. To find your “one thing” might be obvious, but for most it requires some research and some soul searching. To find out what customers are buying from you (which may very well be different than what you think you are selling) and what you aspire to become.
Conviction: This is where most brands get into trouble. Companies simply lack the conviction to be clear and talk about their “one thing.” They simply don’t believe enough in their brand position or in their strategy as a company enough to focus on it. They are sustainable, AND fashion-forward AND have the best features. They are value-priced, AND celebrity endorsed AND available for immediate delivery. They are the most established AND the most current AND the safest choice. And because their “but wait, there’s more” approach to brand marketing, leaves customers confused (at best) or creates so much noise, that the signal of their true purpose can never reach their potential customers. And standing, proud enough and long enough to be noticed, requires stamina and perseverance, so can be sure your conviction will be put to the test.
I am as guilty as anyone of taking the “yes, and” approach to branding from time to time. It is human nature to want to please and make our brand relevant to more segments, more customers, and have more value (propositions) than is necessary. Branding is one area where “yes, and” - this communication tool, borrowed from improv - doesn’t apply. You can succeed in negotiations, conflicts, or even creative collaborations using “yes, and” responses, but brand conversations need a lot more “no” and “this, NOT that” clarity. What you say “no” to is the test of strategy and what where you choose not to stand is the test of your brand strategy. It is difficult because you have to fight human nature, sustain under pressure, and have courage. All so that you can stand, with confidence, clarity, and conviction until people think about your “one thing” when they think about your brand.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.
This seems like a simple question. One that would be easy to answer. But for those of us in a customer-facing and customer-impacting role or with big ambitions for our career, it is the kind of multiple choice question that leads to new insights and creates different day-to-day priorities and strategies.
WHO Do You Work for?
Option 1: You work for your employer. This is the most obvious one. You are employed by an organization from which you receive a paycheck. You have a boss (or several). Your boss might have a boss. Your goals are aligned to the financial or strategic goals of the business and the goals of those bosses. And your primary job is to advocate for the company with customers to create enterprise value for the investors of your company and the leadership who is advocating their interest. With this mindset, the importance of “managing up” is clear. Internal relationship building and being visible in the organization is critical. Whether your manager is collaborative, a micro-manager, or empowering, this view dominates the work landscape.
Option 2: You work for your customers. For marketing professionals and other customer-facing roles, this can be a very useful perspective for day-to-day prioritization. Customers ultimately pay the bills and drive growth and profit in the company. Often customer advocacy and resulting business results can lead to personal rewards. If your goals are aligned to the business goals of your customer, this can lead to great partnership and can optimize long-term customer value. Customer experience and customer service are paramount and are driving enterprise value (not the other way around). With this mindset, the importance of customer relationship building is clear. You need to spend time with your boss, after all. And your primary job is to advocate or the customer within the company.
Option 3: You work for yourself. Perhaps you are self-employed, consult, or rocking the gig economy, but even if you are not, it is helpful to consider this perspective. Even if you are an employee, you own your own career. You own your own development. And for most of us, we own how we apply our time and energy to the various problems and opportunities we face daily. Ultimately, you choose to join companies, which customers or markets you focus on, and how you pursue your personal passions over time. And with this approach, your primary job is to advocate for yourself with customers and the company, to align their goals with the work you want to pursue. In my experience, this perspective comes to the forefront in times of transition or discontent, but otherwise is under-prioritized.
As you consider your answer, know that it truly is a multiple choice question. Your answer will likely be a mix of all three and will vary over time as needs and priorities changes.
In any case, I highly recommend you spending time, being mentored by, and really understanding the needs of all three of your bosses - your employer, your customers, and yourself – to ensure that you are performing up to your fullest potential. We often don’t listen to ourselves or give ourselves the same compassionate and honest advice we would give to colleagues or our employees, even though we could benefit from the self-reflection. And most of us don’t ask or receive advice frequently enough from our employers or our customers and we should regularly seek out the gift of feedback. Armed with these insights, we can confidently answer the question and focus on the highest impact priorities.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.
On the advice of a friend, Angela Naphin, whose recent podcast on personal branding, encouraged it, I Googled myself. Despite the popularity of my name, I was pleased to see that I was the 5th most popular image for Jennifer Davis and my blog ranked up there. Behind the runner-up Miss America. Behind a surgeon. Behind an artist. Behind an ambassador. I am in good company, it seems.
According to the US Census Bureau, and their very entertaining HowManyofMe.com website, there are 6,050 women named Jennifer Davis in the US alone. And there over a million women named Jennifer in the US. The name ipeaked in popularity around the time of my birth, which is why all of us Jennifers are about the same age (ie, think Jennifer Gardner, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jennifer Lopez, and all the Jennifers you know, are related to, and work with).
But back to my point, my name alone is not distinctive enough to be a brand. Lucky for me it isn’t hard to spell or pronounce. It is easy for people all over the world to say. But it is not unique. It isn’t some celebrity baby name that some might read as strange, but is memorable. My name sounds like someone you have met before and perhaps you have. When I lived in Portland, Oregon, I was told all the time that there was a ticket agent who works at the Portland airport and a high school administrator with the same name. My only hope was that they were outstanding citizens who didn’t end up with our name splashed in a negative newspaper masthead. I think we have generally avoided all of that and as a group we have worked for good.
In the final tally, I am not any of the following Jennifers, but we may share some characteristics.
- I am not Jennifer Davis the ambassador, although I am diplomatic and strategic
- I am not Jennifer Davis, the ballroom dance instructor, although I strive to mentor
- I am not Jennifer Davis, the artist, although I am creative
- I am not Jennifer Davis, the surgeon, although I do focus my expertise to help others
- I am not Jennifer Davis, the real estate agent, although I do live in Atlanta
- I am not Jennifer Davis, the beauty queen, although, I too, wish for world unity
And the 6,049 others who share my name...are not me.
You, too, should Google yourself. Think about what makes you unique among your name-sharing peers and what make you similar. And then be you!
“The role of the modern leader is turning data into stories and focusing actions and resources to these stories. Story is strategy.” – Jennifer Davis
“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” – Woodrow Wilson