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Words Tend To Have The Opposite Effect

If you tell a kid to limit TV viewing they will sneak out and do something else. Just because.

Order an adult to eat fruit. They will ignore you and find cheeseburgers.

After a politician makes any speech, people will find reasons to howl in protest. What a hypocrite!

That is how authoritative speech works. The more you try to force a thing the more the people rebel.

Photo by me.

Leadership When There Is Nothing To Say

Man with sick child in hospital waiting room, Mozambique. Photo: Eric Miller/ World Bank via Flickr 

Proactively identifying and solving problems. Those are leadership traits.

But they're not always useful.

Often the skill is simply to be there.

Being there does not mean imposing yourself on the situation, on the problem -- shoving your agenda around.

It does mean physical, emotional and spiritual presence. Sitting with the people. Holding somebody's hand. Showing that you care.

Leadership often means empathy and not action words. Action-oriented people have difficulty understanding this. "What should I say? There are no new developments."

Especially in times when there is chaos and fear, the calming support of a leader is not just helpful. It is required in order for the organization to continue running.

People may not show it but they are frequently wracked with physical and emotional pain -- anxiety, apprehension, fear. Not to mention anger: "It's not fair."

A great leader does not play into negative emotions. Rather the leader calms them. "It's OK. We will pull through together."

You can be a leader at every level. In times of trouble what is required is to put yourself away for awhile. And let forth a healing energy.

It is possible to solve a problem without any problem-fixing words.

A great leader knows when to not say them.

Brand Values: Be Consistent, Not "Nice"

Starbucks corporate social responsibility values are key to the brand -- because they position themselves as part of the community. Screenshot of Starbucks coffee cup label via Tara's Tidbits.

People get brand values (a.k.a. core values) mixed up with humanistic ones. They're not the same thing.

You, as a person, have a basic set of values. They are the principles that drive you as a human being -- your conscience. Your values may make you "not nice."

For example let's say these are your top three: freedom, integrity, and honesty. Freedom means choices; integrity means doing the right thing; honesty means not lying.

  • Standing up for freedom can mean fighting very vocally and sometimes physically. 
  • Integrity may mean turning in a thief. 
  • Honesty may involve a very direct and undiplomatic response to someone who's being deceitful.
All of those values are nice. None of those values involve being nice.

What is the purpose of having personal values? They are your compass; they guide you through life. They can be grounded in religion, or not.

The purpose of brand values is very different. They are your compass, too. But they're not about personal meaning. They are about adding value to the product you sell.

Brand values gain traction through consistency. The more you are who you say you are, the more believable your "promise." Meaning, the more credible you are when you say your product is worth more than a competitor.

That promise may be true or simply an illusion. But it is always founded on living the same values day in and day out.

Steve Jobs is one of my favorite examples on this. He valued innovation, simplicity, focus above all else. He was not known to be nice.

Porsche cars are luxurious, fast and showy. The salespeople treat you well. But not because they are nice people. Rather, they assume you are important.

McDonald's is not a luxury brand. The cashiers at McDonald's don't treat you especially nicely. But then again, you're paying for the dollar menu. It's not what they're about.

What is a brand that treats you nicely? Here's one: Trader Joe's. At this supermarket, the salespeople are all like, "Ho-ho-ho, welcome to the store," and they should be. They are selling an experience, they want you in the fantasy of a community, and to do that they have to reach out.

A long time ago I was part of a conference held at The Four Seasons in West Palm Beach. There ought to be a training series taught by the staff of The Four Seasons. I have never been treated so nicely in all my life. For the duration of that conference, the guests' feet were literally not allowed to touch the floor.

Niceness is a good quality to have. But it's not essential for brand.

Distinguishing the pursuit of brand equity from the quest to be a decent human being is important. You can definitely work on both. And every executive has to have some serious polish. But niceness as an end in itself is sort of meaningless.

Success in any sphere -- work, friendship, family, hobby, life -- means knowing what the goal is, having a strategy, and assessing whether that strategy is getting you there periodically. When it comes to personal values as versus those related to brand, it's very important to know your metric for each. And how you can realistically measure your progress.

8 Branding Opportunities Most Marketers Ignore

Screenshot via Improbable Research

1. Receipt: What does it look like? What does it say? Even the lack of a receipt can mark your brand, as at Whole Foods where you can get one automatically.

2. Pre-Recorded Telephone Message: How does it sound? Does it drone on and on? What does that say about you? BOR-ING!

3. Cashiers: Are they thinking human beings or just drones? People like to chat when they're checking out, can your staff make conversation?

4. Seamless Experience: Does every point of interaction focus on solving the customer's needs? Or is the entire shopping experience stove-piped? (My favorite is when customer service starts explaining why bad service is not their fault.)

5. Third-Party Republished Information: Other websites are taking your data and aggregating it with similar providers. Or you are getting rated. Are you collecting information about how you appear on these sites? People may trust them more than you. (Please tell me you aren't writing your own reviews.)

6. Garbage: Do you recycle? Do you respect the community around you? People notice everything not just what you want to portray. I took this photo behind a popular deli that shares its trash facilities with its neighbors. Due to the parking situation, many customers have to walk past the dumpster to get to the food. The repetitive experience of park - dumpster - food leads to an association in the mind, rightly or wrongly.

7. Causes: What do you care about, sponsor, promote? It says something about who you are.

8. Employee Reviews: What is it like to work for you? To be interviewed by you? Vault and Glassdoor are sharing that information with the world.

Prepping For Disaster -- Alone

"Just 28% rate the federal government in Washington favorably. That is down five points from a year ago and the lowest percentage ever in a Pew Research Center survey." - Pew Research Center for People & The Press, April 15, 2013
Today during the morning commute the radio station played interviews with Boston commuters.

"They are going on as usual," the announcer said, and then a lady started talking. She was there when the bombings happened. "I don't understand," she repeated over and over. "I don't understand."

My daughter called me on the phone. "I'm very upset about what happened in Boston," she said. "Who did it? I don't understand."

Surfing the Internet as if to find the answer in five seconds, I felt helpless. "I don't know," I said to her. "I just don't know."

What we worried about is happening. Terrorist attacks are hitting home. Not in the streets, necessarily. But in our heads -- what we feared after 9/11 is becoming real.

Some might say that gunfire in a school is not the same as an organized terrorist attack. But in the victims' mind -- that is, our minds, our collective mind -- it is. Because we can't count on any day being normal.

And our sense of security at home is shot.

This is the Boston Marathon.

They've bombed the Boston Marathon.

When the kids who normally ignore the news start getting bothered, and panicky under the skin, then something is infiltrating our consciousness.

Terrorism will not automatically make people run to the government for protection. While its true that:

...the approval rating of the federal government, i.e. those who would track and hold those guns has reached a new low. (Disclaimer: I work for the federal government; all opinions are my own.)

They aren't waiting for the feds.

According to Pew research released April 15, 2013, nearly three-quarters of the American people don't think favorably of the federal government. Among Republicans, that figure rises to more than 85%; among Democrats it approaches 60%.

Popular culture shows us this mistrust in action. Watch an episode of The Walking Dead. In the face of calamity, people are turning to their own resources--not waiting for law enforcement.

A nonfictional National Geographic TV series, Doomsday Preppersis completely dedicated to the disaster industry.

Similarly, in January of this year The New York Times ran an article called "The Doomsday Preppers Next Door," about people getting ready for all kinds of eventualities.
This is not to say that the federal government is irrelevant. People look to it for protective legislation. Gun control is a prime example. Just today somebody said to me, "How can anybody smoke with their kid in the car? The government should pass a law about that. They ought to fine people."

But citizen protection -- people are not so sure.

During times of natural or man-made calamity, people who are into preparedness run to the basement. For whatever they have stored or hidden. They don't want to go on -- they want to save their own skins.

Like everyone else I'm upset about what happened in Boston - very upset - worried. Praying that G-d sends strength to our law enforcement at every level - federal, state and local. Praying we will succeed at stopping any future attacks in time.

Right now people are waiting for the next shoe to drop. Let's hope we can stop it before it hits the floor.

* All opinions, as always are my own.

5 Ways To Assure Your Place In The Moneyless Future (Bitcoin)

Money is dying and virtual cash is coming alive as people have figured out a way around traditional currency systems. Today the predominant system for this exchange is known as Bitcoin.

(See: "Meet The Bitcoin Millionaires.")

Bitcoin is disruptive. Nobody owns it. It is traded though. In fact last Thursday Nasdaq had to halt trading on Bitcoin (the "Mt. Gox exchange," out of Japan) because they couldn't handle the volume. The system is seeing about 20,000 new traders a day.

If "Bitcoinia" were a country it would be small but significant, would be the world's 165th largest, "beating out Malta but...just topped by Luxembourg," writes John Vandivier, who tried to calculate its popularity. He also estimates there are about 450,000 users worldwide.

Virtual money is essentially an advanced barter system with bits and bytes replacing the idea of money.  Even if you don't understand the details, the basic idea is that computer-chip cash, like off-the-grid barter systems, is real and it's growing. It's also governable, but not in the traditional way. 

Putting aside the questions of how the new system will work, think about this:

What is going to happen to you when money goes away? 

Here are 5 survival skills to develop, some of them involving actual ability to do things and others more abstract, cognitive and emotional:
  1. Advanced Technological Literacy: In the old system hackers were bad. In the new system hackers and those who know hackers' ways will rule. The reason why is pretty simple. They understand where the money is. 
  2. Likability: In a system where exchanges take place on a virtual level you will need to get along with people if only to figure out what's going on. More than ever, people are the gateway to value within the system and outside it. 
  3. Credibility: You will have to be trustworthy to participate in the exchange system, which will always be shadowy to an extent because of the ease and speed with which money is moved from place to place.
  4. Globally-minded: Bitcoin has no nationality. As the system of world governance evolves, to participate in the new system you will need to see the universe as interconnected and to welcome that reality rather than fight it. 
  5. Change Orientation: Obviously Bitcoin is just one development in a string of new developments we can't predict. It's not enough to be able to handle change, we'll have to become change-oriented. The future is about flexibility in the extreme. 
All change is scary and virtual money is no different. Even the people creating services to support Bitcoin get that it's a seismic shift: "The current Bitcoin trading environment is unique, to say the least, and likely unsettling to those who are newly watching the currency," says Jaron Lukasiewicz, CEO, Coinsetter

I'm taking a deep breath now. Then it's on to sharpen those skills and be ready for the economic environment of the future.

Mark Zuckerberg Wants To Know: Why Are Leadership Speeches So Boring?

Image via, "Blah, Blah, Blah is What Gen Y'ers are Hearing"

Writing for CNET, Chris Matyszczyk talks about the new commercial for Facebook Home. He notes that it's partly a commentary on the typical phenomenon of employees listening to their boring CEO go on and on, writing:

"In a quite stunning acting debut, Facebook's CEO shows the virtues of Home and the difficulties of being a CEO. His employees aren't impressed." (Full story here.)

From an advertising perspective I don't think the commercial works - I'm too focused on the fact that Zuckerberg is making fun of himself. 

But from a branding perspective it might be a good one. The commercial tells me that Facebook represents irreverence - a brand value that I identify with. This might make me more likely to remain a customer.

If you take away the commercial aspect though, the ad brings a timeless internal communication problem to light.  Corporate writers wring their hands about boring leadership speeches all the time - and here is Mark Zuckberberg himself, the leader of one of the most important brands in the world - basically agreeing with them.

Why is executive communication often so boring? In my view it's because leaders avoid talking about the real issues - particularly the conflicts underlying those issues - for fear of upsetting the apple cart.

What can be done to fix it? Probably the recognition that people are tuning out. And that they're not just tuning out and letting you do what you want, but continuing the conversation around you. If that conversation goes in a different direction than the content of your talk, your influence and then your credibility is undermined.

Too much emphasis is placed on frontline speeches. The real work has to be done behind the scenes, one person at a time, supported both by consensus and by data to support the leaders' conclusions.

Leadership is not a one-person show anymore. It's about moving a crowd as one. The followers have to be on the same page, but they can't be on the same page if they're not listening.

* All opinions, as always, are my own.