The Bad Idea Revolution

21 Mar

Bob Marley.  Les Mis.  America.  Revolutions are sexy.  Which is why I’m hesitant to write this blog post.  How to kill the bad idea revolution.  But here it goes.

I love my colleague.  But recently, he had an ill-founded idea for a new product feature.  When I found out about it, I vowed I’d soon voice my concerns.

“The time to stop a revolution is at the beginning, not the end.”  –Adlai Stevenson

But I didn’t act for a few days.  Things got busy and talking to him kept on slipping down my to-do list.  By the time I did, my colleague had already converted two disciples and drafted an initial plan.  I tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was decided.  The bad idea revolution was in motion.

Bad ideas are just ideas until one of three things occur:  

1)      The bad idea attracts at least one follower.

2)      The revolutionary has time to develop a concrete plan.

3)      The tiniest of first steps is made to start executing the plan.

These three things take time.  It might be two hours or two weeks before a colleague with a bad idea can attract a follower or devise a plan.  The key is to confront the person with your concerns before these events ever happen.  If one of these events does occur, you’re no longer fighting just an idea.  You’re fighting a bad idea revolution.

revolution

If a bad idea does becomes a revolution, here are two additional tactics to try:

1) Convince another colleague of the risks inherent in the idea.  Ignoring one colleague is easy.  Ignoring a group of colleagues is not.

2)  Use the two for every one rule to come prepared with alternatives.

It’s not as sexy to kill a revolution as it is to start one, but sometimes it’s just as important.  Act swiftly to kill bad ideas, before others become committed to them.  You’ll create space for other, important ideas to breathe.

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My Marketing Haiku

13 Mar

Marketing is a smile

Red-robed impression

That allures, excites, disarms.

But the product talks.

smile

Two For Every One

10 Mar

“Criticizes the ideas of others without ever offering an idea or solution of his own.  Drains the room of energy.  Not a forward thinker.”

That was me.  No wonder my colleagues left me out of group lunches.

criticism

But after reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer, all of that has changed.  In his book, Lehrer describes “plussing,” the act of  bringing a new idea or tweak to the table after you criticize someone else’s idea.  Your idea, “the plus,” softens the criticism and provides a new or altered plan.  I’ve taken plussing a step further: I now hold myself accountable to the two for every one rule.

It works like this.  Every time I criticize a co-worker’s idea, I have to offer two ideas of my own.  The ideas can be tweaks on the plan I’m criticizing or entirely new solutions.

Why is the two for every one rule game-changing?

1)      It leads to idea generation.  When a plan is shot-down without any new ideas surfacing, everyone involved leaves depressed.  The two for every one rule guarantees that when an idea is axed, new ideas are generated.

2)      It creates a team atmosphere by forcing everyone to try to find a solution.  We can no longer criticize a plan and then remain aloof, leaving the work of finding a solution to others.  When we’re forced to offer two new ideas for every criticism, we’re committed to trying  to solve the problem, not just point it out.

3)      It puts everyone on the chopping block.  By forcing everyone to offer their own ideas, it opens up everyone to criticism and critique.  When everyone is exposed, no one person feels ganged up on.

 

It’s much easier to point out flaws in the ideas of others than come up with your own plans, which makes following this rule is extremely hard.   But I’m slowly but surely implementing the two for every one rule across my life.

The early results: I’m an idea-generator like never before, colleagues ask for my opinion more often because I offer compelling and constructive feedback, and people seem genuinely happy to see me at meetings. 

imagine

Hungry for Knowledge

7 Mar

 When I want takeout, I use Seamless.  One password, one time entering my credit card number, food at my door in 25 minutes.

In the new age of higher education publishing, students will exclusively purchase access codes to online content.  Why should they have to visit four different publisher websites to purchase their course materials for the semester?  Create four different passwords?  Enter their credit card information four times?

Publishers are still stuck in the stone age of brick and mortar campus bookstores.  In the stone age, we shipped our books to the bookstore, and students bought them off the shelf.  With the rise of digital content, students now must navigate our often poorly designed websites, pick just the right online bundle of content among many similar choices, and then go through a lengthy purchasing process.  We never had to worry about our bounce rate until now, but I have no doubt that we lose customers because our digital purchasing is too complicated.

Free and open courseware, the de-emphasis of the textbook by instructors, and our pricing models have already damaged sell-through.    At the very least, we must eliminate barriers to purchase by coming up with a simpler way for students to find and buy our products.

The solution: one website on which students can search and purchase the digital content of all publishers.  Students create one password and enter their credit card information just once. 

A Seamless for course materials.  Our products contain so much knowledge, but we have a lot to learn from our favorite take-out spots.

 

Chinese Takeout - With cookie and blank fortune

The Little Man That Sits On Your Shoulder

1 Mar

The little man that sits on your shoulder is usually a mischief maker.  He whispers naughty things in your ear and urges you to do no good.

Shoulder Devil

But a different kind of little man is described in The Art of The Start, one who doesn’t tempt you to make trouble, but keeps you on track during your presentations.

When I present, I’m constantly reminding myself that what others get of my presentation is my #1 consideration—that the audience is all that matters.  But when we start talking, it’s VERY easy to lose sight of this.  We begin to ramble, the focus on our audience disappearing.  We say everything we want to say, not just what the audience needs to hear.  Soon, the session is more about us, and less about everyone else in the room.

Here are two guards against this mistake:

  1. Write an e on the back of your hand.
  2. Guy Kawasaki’s little man trick.  When he gives a presentation, Kawasaki imagines that there’s a little man sitting on his shoulder, asking him “So What?” after everything he says.  “How does this help the audience?  Why is it important?  How can they use it?”  If the talking point is important, it’s worth explaining further and making crystal-clear.  If it doesn’t help the audience in some way, cut it.  Simple as that.

Two little tricks, same result: a presentation that’s not only focused on your audience, but moves others to action.  I use both now.  So should you.

A New Type of Grading

23 Feb

A teacher scribbles a breakdown of the last exam grades on the projector: 65 A’s, 107 B’s, 98 C’s, and 43 F’s.  Average: 82.5.

A number of students feel great because they easily beat the average.  Others feel shitty—they blew it and seeing all those A’s is salt in the wound.  And then the grades are erased from the board.

But instead of just reporting the grades, what if the instructor offered this instead: if the class average on the next exam increases by five points, everyone gets five bonus points on the next exam.

Or what if she went a step further, putting students in small groups with an equal distribution of A, B, and C students in each group?  And offered each student five bonus points if his group’s next exam average increased by five points? 

Would students work harder, knowing that classmates are counting on them?  Collaborate more?  Form study groups and foster a community of learning rather than just trying to master the content solo?

Group incentives in higher education are on my mind, but the logic applies to everything we do:

The next time I run a contest for my sales force, I’ll break the reps into small groups and incentivize the performance of each group, not just individuals.  The result I expect: sales reps will not only work harder, feeling accountable to one another, but share valuable advice with other members of their group, teaching their colleagues how to be more successful.

Too often in life, we reward winners and brand others as “losers” without providing any reason for individuals to help one another.  What we should be doing is incentivizing collaboration and the success of the entire group.  If we want better results, we need a new type of grading.

That Big Project Can Wait. Just For A Little Bit.

20 Feb

Google “Do the hardest thing first” and you’ll find ten articles like this one. These articles implore us to tackle the toughest task on our to-do list first, which is sound, practical advice on productivity.  But it’s all wrong.

Don’t start the day with your most onerous project.  Start with something else first and then take a crack at that tough task.

Here are two reasons why:

1)     Too often, I’ve slogged through my toughest task for an entire morning of work, only to realize that I still haven’t finished it and have 15 other chores to complete before heading home.  This causes PANIC.  I rush through the rest of the difficult task, a chore that by definition can’t be rushed, so that I can move down my to-do list.  Paradoxically, by trying to give the toughest task the most attention by starting with it first, I often give it less attention than it deserves because I feel pressure to get it done and move on to the other projects waiting for me.

On the other hand, when I spend the first hour of the day crossing off one or two other tasks before tackling the doozie, I’m more relaxed and less compelled to rush through the big project when it takes multiple hours to complete.  With an item or two already completed, the stress of needing to move on subsides, allowing me to devote more energy to that tough task.

2)     I believe in momentum.  Starting with a task that’s difficult, yet able to be finished in a reasonable time frame sets a tone of productivity that lingers the rest of the day.  If I’m able to cross off a task or two in the morning, I’m often amazed at my momentum.  The day turns into a steady march through a variety of projects—and a stress free one at that.

I’m not telling you to procrastinate tackling that one hard project looming over your head.  But by finishing one or two less difficult projects before starting, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment that will allow you to devote your full energies to the big project.  

Which, of course, is the goal in the first place.

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