Tag Archives: success

Subtle Cues And Crabs

15 Apr

If you tug too quickly on the string, the crab drops the chicken and sidesteps away.  If you drop the net in the water too aggressively, the ripples frighten off your prey.  It’s only when you pull the string in one finger width at a time, when the crab realizes it’s being hunted only after it’s in your net, that you land your catch.

Crabbing

Click to see some crabbing on a string!

I recently began using an iPad in sales calls.  It’s a powerful tool for product demos, but it scared away my prospects.  Why?

To ensure I could quickly launch into a demo, I flipped open the case cover and logged in before sales calls.  In an industry where prospects give sales people a very limited amount of time to present their wares, I thought having my iPad ready for action would be a strategic advantage.

But as soon as I walked into a prospect’s office, his eyes shifted to my open iPad and his pupils dilated in fear.  The iPad was my net, and I had clearly dipped it into the water too early.  Before I even got to qualify, nonetheless demo my product, the prospect darted away like a crab.

Revealing our sales tools too early and rushing to make our pitch is a sure way to scare off our catch.   And sometimes, it’s just a subtle cue, a signal of the demo to come, that alarms our prospects.  In my case it was the open iPad.

As soon as I realized my mistake and closed the case before walking into offices, my prospects opened up to me again.

Are you scaring away your crab?

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Are You Ready?

29 Mar

I ran a focus group yesterday to record product users (in this case 18 year olds) giving our product glowing endorsements.

What I captured on film instead is two of the most opinionated teenagers you’ll ever meet bashing our product.

These outspoken attendees called the product trivial, degrading, insulting.  You can hear the tension in my voice on the recording, the strain of me nodding my head and asking “explain further…” when all I wanted to do was lash back.  They’re wrong and I know it.

But it doesn’t matter what I know. Or what I think.  I seethed for hours after the focus group until I realized how naive I was to expect a love fest of a focus group.  How silly I was to think I could control the feedback they gave me for the camera.

Focus groups attract two types of people: those in it for the money, and those who want to be heard.  The second group is the only group that matters, and they’re often critical.  You’re not going to like everything they say.  The point isn’t to control their feedback.  It’s to have their feedback control what you do.

feedback

Be sure you can answer yes to all of these questions before you run a focus group:

Are you ready to listen?

Are you ready to be criticized and instead of arguing, push your retorts deep down into the pit of your stomach?

Are you ready to make changes?

Feedback is coming.  Are you ready for it?

 

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.

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

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.

My Pet Shrimp Named Google

14 Feb

My focus group attendees are like shy freshmen on the first day of high school.  They walk into our focus group room, immediately shuffle to the last row of seats, and avoid all eye contact.

Which is why I treat them like high schoolers.  At the start of every focus group, we all sit in a circle and introduce ourselves to the rest of the group just like on the first day of class.

But I add a little twist.

1)     As attendees enter the room, I hand them an index card and ask them to write an interesting fact about themselves on it—without including their name.

2)     Right before we start, I collect the cards and put them in a hat.

3)     When we start, I pull the cards out of the hat and read them one at a time.  After I read a fun fact, the group has to try to guess who that fact belongs to.

4)     When the owner of the fact is exposed, he has to explain the fact and what he’s looking to get out of the focus group.

The best fact I’ve heard to date: I have a pet shrimp name Google.

028

Part of running great focus groups is priming attendees to comfortably share their feedback.  If attendees show up but don’t talk openly and honestly, your session is a waste.  The fun fact game immediately loosens up a crowd, endearing the attendees not only to each other, but to you as well.

If an attendee can tell you about his pet shrimp, or his Chilean spear fishing championship, or how he lost his big toe, he’s ready to give you feedback on your product.

Spend a little time running the fun facts game at the beginning of your sessions.  You’ll get better feedback during the rest of the session, and attendees will always remember the fun game they played in your focus group.

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