Use Feedback To Spark, Not Destroy

Posted on November 23, 2014 by Josh Linkner

I was 11 years old and getting the scolding of my life. My dad let me have it because he busted me selling illegal fireworks at school, which obviously was problematic from a parent’s perspective.

My entrepreneurial efforts got me in a world of trouble. The resulting punishment included being forced to call the parents of all my customers (fellow classmates), introduce myself, and let them know I sold their kid illegal fireworks. Needless to say, this did not help my popularity.

Remembering back, I was lectured for what seemed like hours on how horrible my behavior was. How I broke the law, endangered students, embarrassed the family and other travesties. My profitable business was shut down, and at the time I felt like I’d never want to take a crazy risk again.

Now with my own kids, however, I may take a different approach if the circumstances were to repeat. While I wouldn’t condone an illegal or dangerous enterprise, I would be more encouraging of the positives that transpired.

I’d recognize that a market opportunity was identified, suppliers were secured, margins were calculated with strong unit economics ($1 per pack of firecrackers with only a 25 cents cost of goods sold), customers wooed, and distribution channels built. A business was launched, entrepreneurial initiative was taken, and profits were produced.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t get discouraged by my embarrassment or subsequent grounding. I ended up launching several businesses and embracing entrepreneurship as my career. But think about all the people that were discouraged from following their dreams — from a parent, teacher, or some other authority figure — that internalized the criticism and never tried again.

We are quick to scold those around us for behavior that deviates from the norm. While we certainly need to maintain law and order, we shouldn’t view divergent behavior as all good or all bad. We have highly developed detection systems to spot the negative, but by seeking the good in things we can drive more positive change in the world.

For every Broadway performer, entrepreneur, or pro athlete, there are probably 100 others who could have enjoyed the same success had they not been discouraged along the way.

Supporting those around us with positive feedback and encouraging them to pursue their biggest dreams may yield a few failures, but more importantly, it will help produce far more successes. This same principle applies to our own internal dialog, when we give ourselves a pat-on-the-back instead of cutting criticism.

Don’t scold, celebrate. Don’t demoralize, empower. Become the source of encouragement — to others and yourself — and you’ll end up helping your business, community and family.

Serve as the spark. Just try to stay clear of bottle rockets and Roman candles.

Increase Trust, Reduce Cost

Posted on November 15, 2014 by Josh Linkner

$167,731.

That’s the annual cost to house, feed and guard a single prison inmate in New York City, according to a recent report published in the New York Times. This whopping price tag equates to a daily cost of $459.54.

In the sharpest of contrasts to the cement-block walls of a cold jail cell, the Ritz Carlton Hotel is the paragon of luxury. World-class service, beautiful design, 600 thread-count sheets. And yet, the average cost for a night at the Ritz — $323, according to its public filings — is 30% less than the cost of a night in city jail.

Before planes struck our buildings on a clear September day, airport security costs were fairly low because officials trusted that passengers would generally behave. As an immediate response to unspeakable terror, the Transportation Security Authority (TSA) was formed to protect travelers and now has an annual budget of $7.39 billion.

In addition to the gigantic monetary burden, anyone who’s been to an airport recently can attest to how this lack of trust slows things down. Snaking security lines, invasive pat-downs, and requirements to practically undress to your skivvies burns time and money while violating our privacy. All because trust has been eroded.

What about in your own business, organization, community, or family? Companies enact rigid polices with layers of bureaucratic enforcement due to a fundamental lack of trust in team members and customers. The Broward County, Fla., jail system eats up 25% of every county tax dollar and represents the single largest expense to its taxpayers. Just imagine how those funds could be better used to elevate that community.

In Steven M.R. Covey’s masterful work, “The Speed of Trust,” he puts it simply: When organizational trust is low, costs go up and speed decreases. On the other hand, if you can build trust with those around you, costs decrease while speed increases.

As a leader (in business, community and family), you build trust in two ways: First, by being trustworthy yourself. Not only by being honest, but also keeping commitments and delivering on expectations. Secondly, trust is earned by trusting. As you extend trust to others, they return the favor and organizational trust begins to climb.

I’m always shocked how managers hire people based on their intelligence and sound judgment, yet rarely allow them to use either. With a foundation of trust, we can get on with the real work of innovating, creating and delivering. Every minute or dollar we spend policing could be redeployed into gaining competitive advantage if we can build teams that foster mutual trust.

The next time I feel like spending $459.54 for an overnight stay, I’m choosing the luxury hotel that can craft an upscale experience with its expenses rather than spending heavily to protect against bad behavior.

Build a trust-based organization, and you’ll be able to afford to better serve customers and drive sustainable growth. With growth and profits on the rise, you’ll certainly enjoy a good night’s sleep.

A Most Delicious Victory

Posted on November 9, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Customers lined up, waiting around the block for what you’re selling. This is the dream of all business leaders, especially when those customers come back every single day for more. We all want an infinite stream of buyers, willing to fork over whatever we feel like charging, so we can enjoy the spoils of success.

This may sound like a fairytale, but this enviable state is anything but make-believe for Chef Dominique Ansel in New York City. Customers, in fact, wait in long lines daily for the maestro’s wares.  In this case, his magical invention is known as a Cronut. These tasty indulgences are the love child of a fiery romance between a croissant and a doughnut. Thin layers of croissant dough, molded together in the shape of a doughnut, served in a variety of exotic flavors such as Strawberry Balsamic and Mascarpone, Salted Dulce de Leche, and Morello Cherry with Toasted Almond Cream.

Cronut

Because this creative chef’s offering is unique, the world has taken notice. Unlike other traditional options, these one-of-a-kind treats are in extremely high demand. Every batch is sold out within an hour, and the price point ($5.00 each) is five times higher than the generic glazed doughnut down the street.

While on the subject of doughnuts, something special is also brewing in Portland, Oregon.  Voodoo Doughnuts is equally packed, but not because they serve up your average cruller. This hip joint combines the feel of a tattoo parlor with strange name and flavor doughnuts such as Bacon Maple, Dirty Snowballs, and the Gay Bar Doughnut. There’s even a Voodoo Doll doughnut, allowing you to savor revenge on your enemies while getting your morning sugar rush. In addition to funky food, they also perform weddings. Oh yeah, dozens of doughnut-driven weddings have been performed “beneath the holy doughnut and a velvet painting of Isaac Hayes.”  In Portland, there are all the other competitors that are nearly indistinguishable…. And then there’s Voodoo Doughnuts, standing firmly in it’s own category.

VooDoo Doughnuts

The mash-up – combining two disparate ideas to create something new – is a powerful mechanism for creative discovery. If it can drive success in the simple world of doughnuts, just think what it can do for you. What if you combined your law firm with that of a trendy club?  Clients are greeted with Techno music in the lobby while attendants in black turtlenecks serve VOS water in Martini glasses. Yes, some clients may be alienated, but others would fall in love with the unique and compelling experience.

Does your financial services website look just like the competitive pack? What if you borrowed design cues from the apparel industry? Or used marketing techniques from Broadway musicals?

Snag ideas from less obvious sources and combine them with your own business to create something fresh and inspired.  Your ‘Reese’s Peanut Butter moment’ can be the turning point to forge a wildly differentiated product or service — One that will have customers lining up around the block. Ditch the typical offerings, and craft your own Cronut. Doing so will yield the most delicious treat of all… sustainable success.

You Are What You Believe

Posted on November 2, 2014 by Josh Linkner

As we were about to take the stage together last week, Geoff Clapp, a New Orleans jazz drummer, said something especially powerful to me.

While giving talks on innovation, I often hire local musicians and incorporate live jazz as a metaphor for business creativity (I’ve been playing jazz guitar for more than 30 years). We were about to perform to a crowd of business executives from around the world, demonstrating how musical improvisation could serve as a framework for their own challenges, and I noticed how happy, confident, and relaxed Geoff was.

When I asked him about it, he smiled and shared his approach with me: “Every time before a performance, I envision how great it’s going to go. Sure, I think about my own playing — being completely ‘on’ and in the groove — but I also think about each of the other musicians performing at their best. I think about how great we’ll all feel just after the gig, knowing we each delivered at our highest level. I get in the mind-set where I just know we’re going to nail it.”

His smile beamed as we took the stage, and we instantly connected as musicians. It felt like we had played together for years, even though we’d just met 15 minutes earlier. Our performance was received with cheers from the crowd, which I believe was largely driven by our positive and thoughtful drummer.

Olympic athletes often take a similar approach. They visualize their performance in advance, concentrating on how they’ll execute at their best and bring home the gold. The best-of-the-best fully expect to be named champions, even before they enter the arena.

In your case, what’s running through your mind before that big meeting? Are you ruminating on all the things that could go wrong? Wallowing in doubt? Obsessing how bad it will be if you blow it? In the same way we can affect positive results, we can completely sabotage our efforts by focusing on all the things that can go wrong.

The field of Positive Psychology has recently exploded with extensive research on how our mind-set can impact our outcomes. It turns out that envisioning the win in advance isn’t just wishful thinking; that positive mental framework actually contributes to better results. More deals closed. Creative breakthroughs. Increased growth and success.

Knowing that your mind-set plays a key role in performance, start pumping yourself up each day instead of sliding into the worry trap. Take a minute to clearly visualize the ideal outcomes and focus on how you’ll deliver at your best. It can be a key ingredient to joining the ranks of top performing business leaders, athletes, scientists … and, of course, brilliant jazz drummers from New Orleans.

Play Through Problems To Drive Better Outcomes

Posted on October 26, 2014 by Josh Linkner

As kids, we go out to play. Later in life, we play sports or play music. But then, in sharp contrast, we leave our homes each day and go to work.

The term implies uninspired, often boring and generally yucky things. Parallels of going to the dentist, waiting in line at the DMV or filling out endless forms come to mind. Trading your soul for money is not the ideal way to spend your career.

What if we flipped the terminology, and started calling work something else … “play.” Instead of a workforce, our companies could have a playforce. Think about it … “Bye honey, I’m running off to play.”

“Oh great, dear, have a nice day at the playground.”

Have a conflict? Maybe you should “play” it out.

The research consistently shows that elements of play drive the most creativity, lately the currency of success in the new generation of business. Play stimulates the mind and the soul, and allows us to break out of the drudgery. Work is about completing tasks, maximizing efficiency, and delivering outcomes. Play can do those things, too, but we add fun, imagination and movement to the mix.

The average first-grader laughs more than 300 times a day while the average adult laughs only 17. No surprise that kids are more creative than adults.

Even if you can’t force a company-wide change in terminology, go ahead and make the swap in your mind. You’ll notice a new bounce in your step, and a renewed sense of energy and excitement about the day ahead.

Forget about “working” through your next tough business challenge… try “playing” through it instead.

The Difference Between a Job and a Calling

Posted on October 19, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Michigan public safety officer Ben Hall’s job is to serve on the force in Emmett Township. Like many jobs, his includes a clear set of rules, procedures and regulations. But those rigid policies didn’t define Officer Hall in the way they define so many others.

During a routine traffic stop last week, he noticed something wrong when he pulled over a young woman for a moving violation.

The woman’s young daughter was buckled in the back seat but without a car seat. Now, according to the Michigan Vehicle Code, child restraint systems are required for kids under 4 years of age. Officer Hall’s job, in this case, is to enforce the law. Accordingly, the correct procedure would be to promptly issue a ticket for this violation as a civil infraction.

Luckily, this officer was able to connect with his calling — to protect citizens and ensure public safety. He decided to put that purpose ahead of technical rule enforcement, choosing instead to help out. He learned that the woman wanted to protect her child but had fallen on hard times and couldn’t afford a car seat. Officer Hall instructed the woman to follow him to the closest Walmart.

He escorted them inside and purchased a car seat with his own money. He followed his heart instead of the dusty rulebook, and did far more to protect the safety of a young girl than he could have by issuing a pricey citation.

Ben Hall

The media reported on his gesture. The news item describing his selfless act was picked up by CNN and others.

Each of us has jobs to do; policies to follow; tasks to complete. But in the process, let’s not forget why we signed up in the first place. Acting in accordance with your greater purpose should be your guidepost; not just saluting the flag of policy while your mission goes unfilled.

Now I’m not suggesting we forego the order of law or “go rogue” in some irresponsible manner. I’m simply suggesting that each of us needs to zoom out and reconnect with our calling. Purpose should trump procedure. Mission should win over method.

Officer Hall’s bold move made a real difference. Not just for one young girl, but for the thousands of us inspired by his selfless act. My guess is he’ll get reimbursed in one way or another for the car seat in the form of a raise, charitable donation or simply deep personal satisfaction (he probably enjoyed buying the car seat far more than spending his money in other ways).

Let’s prioritize our calling over the mundane tasks for our jobs. When we get on with the work we’re passionate about — the work that makes a meaningful impact in people’s lives — everyone wins.

What A Difference A Day Makes

Posted on October 12, 2014 by Josh Linkner

For more than 200 episodes since 2001, special agent Jack Bauer captivated the world as the series “24” unfolded in “real-time.”

Each 24-episode season covered only a single day of Bauer (actor Kiefer Sutherland) daring greatly to save the world. While these mythical days were unrealistic, they drew us in as we contemplated the impact that could be achieved in just 24 hours.

The 24-hour day is the great equalizer. Gandhi, Jobs and Mozart all had the identical 24 hours to work with. Big-shot, fancy country club members have the exact same number of daily minutes as starving artists, aspiring college students, and community activists looking to make a difference.

Jack Bauer

To fight through the never-ending challenges and to seize your full potential, it’s critical to take control of the clock. Each of us is responsible for the choices we make and how we leverage (or squander) every precious moment. It’s easy to fall victim to life’s temptations and distractions. We can become overwhelmed with negative news, job pressures, barking bosses, demanding kids and endless responsibilities. Free moments can easily be consumed with gossip, gorging on poisonous fast food, or mind-numbing intoxicants. On the other hand, each 24-hour period can be viewed as a blank canvas for creative expression; an opportunity for your to paint your own masterpiece.

Consider taking a 24-hour challenge. Pushing your boundaries for just a single day can unlock a world of possibility, creating optimism, energy, and hope. Here are a few 24-hour challenges to consider:

Clean Your Mind Challenge — For 24 hours, consume zero negativity. Turn off the news, avoid complainers and fuel your brain with positive information and opportunity. Cleanse out the fear, negativity, conflicts and junk thinking for just a day. Only allow in fresh ideas and information that will inspire.

Fresh Body Challenge — You’re probably heard of juice cleansing, but you don’t need to go that far. Take 24 hours and consume only healthy food and beverages. Cut out the fried, sugary junk that is so tempting and accessible, replacing it with whole foods that drive health and vitality. My guess, you’ll want to continue.

Possibility Challenge — Instead of being heads-down in your daily work, take a day to be only heads up. Imagine the possibilities, push your creative limits, and think about what can-be instead of just what is. Reject nothing, consider everything and let your imagination soar.

Bauer managed to prevent the end of civilization. In your case, I bet you’ll unlock something that’s powerful and invigorating of your own. Give it a shot … see what you can do with laser focus for a single day. It may just be your springboard to lasting transformation.

The Triumph of Cosby’s Consistency

Posted on October 5, 2014 by Josh Linkner

On a flight this past week to San Antonio, I had a special surprise: Bill Cosby was sitting in my same row, two seats down. Yes, that Bill Cosby. The brilliant and accomplished actor, comedian, writer, humanitarian, and musician. The one who has used creativity instead of vulgarity to entertain the world for the last 50 years. The one who stands up for racial equality, education, human rights, and supports the arts.

Bill Cosby
Being such a mega-star, you’d imagine he’d be accompanied by an entourage. You would expect him to be sheltered, distant, and unapproachable. The kind of demanding diva that we’ve come to expect from celebrities. Not Bill. He was completely the opposite: warm, gracious, and caring. He happily snapped pictures with other passengers, shook hands, joked around, and kept us all laughing out loud. This 77-year-old traveled alone with zero pretense or elitism. Just a genuine guy on the way to perform a gig.

What struck me most was his consistency. He clearly lives and behaves in an authentic manner. With his actions in concert with his persona. He’s the same guy on and off the screen. A loving jokester, a warm-hearted neighbor, a caring friend.

In contrast, there’s often a big disconnect between people’s carefully crafted external façade and who they really are. We see this play out when supposedly family-friendly celebrities end up in jail for drug charges. We witness intolerant politicians pound their self-righteous fists on the table of morally, only to end up falling by way of scandal. Even more frequently, we see this gap in our own communities. Hypocritical leaders demand that followers act as they say, not as they do. Community leaders that purport to serve the needy, but ignore their own children. The list goes on and on.

Within each of us, there’s a daily pull to be someone we’re not. Sometimes it is to conform to society’s pressures; sometimes it is the tempting allure of a momentary pleasure. However, the true mark of happiness is being true to yourself regardless of the setting or circumstance. When the strength of our character trumps the seductive appeal of how others want us to be, we reach a grounded state of unwavering fulfillment.

By remaining consistent with that mission and calling, you’ll enjoy far better results in business and life. Simply put, the smaller the gap between your inner and outer self, the stronger your performance and contentment will be.

Cosby’s warm smile and distinctive voice made the flight special for all the passengers and crew. His consistency of character and authentic personality make his life’s work special for us all.

 

Use Your Creativity To Fight Back

Posted on September 28, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Watching the news or reading the paper, it takes only a few minutes to identify major problems in our world.

From the abhorrent behavior of certain NFL players to new terrorist threats in the Middle East, we are surrounded by challenges in every direction. While most of us empathize with these issues, few leap into action.

Three impressive individuals who rose to the challenge aren’t politicians, social activists, or business leaders … they’re college students. From the Materials Science & Engineering department at North Carolina State University to be precise.

Having learned about the horrors of “date rape” on college campuses, the trio decided to invent an early detection system to make women safer. Their big idea: a nail polish that changes colors when it comes in contact with chemicals that have been used to drug women such as Rohypnol, Xanax and GHB.

They are billing the innovation as, the First Fashion Company Empowering Women To Prevent Sexual Assault. Ankesh Madan, one of the cofounders, explained how the team created the idea: “We were thinking about big problems in our society, the topic of drug-facilitated sexual assault came up. All of us have been close to someone who has been through the terrible experience, and we began to focus on preventive solutions, especially those that could be integrated into products that women already use. And so the idea of creating a nail polish that detects date rape drugs was born,” she said, according to a blog entry I read at highereducationworks.org.

While still in the early stages, these young, creative entrepreneurs are well-positioned to make a real difference. Their fresh approach to a real-world problem will likely prevent untold suffering, while also yielding tremendous commercial success.

Each of us has a similar opportunity to make a positive impact by unleashing our imagination to attack the challenges we face.

To proceed, you don’t need to be in college, start a company, or have access to capital. We all have the basic building block of creative problem-solving already at our disposal: human imagination. Rather than ignoring the world’s challenges, or leaping to simple and obvious solutions, let’s raise the bar by pushing our creativity muscles to higher levels of performance.

It’s easy to complain about issues or feel overwhelmed by the negativity in the world. Let’s flip our thinking and use those feelings to fuel our most potent creativity. To begin, attack the very problems that irk you the most. Major advancements throughout history most often come from the frustration of the status quo combined with a courageous, new, creative approach to disrupting it. Instead of getting irritated by the chaos du jour, fight back with your biggest, boldest ideas.

Think of yourself as a problem-solving artist. Today, the world needs your masterpiece like never before.

Diners, Drive-ins, and Dedication

Posted on September 21, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Millions of Americans regularly binge-watch the Food Network’s hit TV show, “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” Hosted by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, the show has a cult-like following and is spectacularly popular. Fieri profiles restaurants that have incredible food in a non-glamorous setting.

Diners Drive-ins and Dives

The grounded, down-to-earth, focus-on-what-matters restaurants featured on the show generally have two things in common: First, they have passionate chefs who truly want to delight their customers. These leaders take great pride in the quality and preparation of their product, scouting out the best ingredients and often taking the long route in order to deliver a stunning experience to their customers. Second, the joints are typically packed; filled with dedicated and loyal customers who have brought their appetites and business for years.

The dives also are clearly missing a few things as well. No uptight, stuffy vibe. No outrageously priced, tiny portions. No flip-flop menu choices just to cater to fleeting trends. No glitzy ad campaigns or gimmicks. Instead of putting energy, time and money into packaging, these restaurateurs focus on substance over sizzle. Value over vanity. Authenticity over pretense.

Think about your own business in this context. Are you truly committed to delivering world-class quality products or services, or do you accept the low bar that’s been set by lazy competitors in your field? Are you building your customer base by delighting clients with value or do you need to over-invest in marketing tactics to get people in the door?

When I survey the business landscape, many of the most successful businesses are those that remain dedicated to the fundamentals. They obsess over their customers instead of counting them as numbers. They spend time figuring out how to deliver more value, rather than extracting more profits. They worry about substance far more than shine.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively, eating in some of the finest restaurants in the world.

My all time favorite, however, is in Berkley. Sila’s Italian Restaurant would be a shoe-in for Fieri’s show. I’ve been enjoying pizza and pasta there for more than 40 years, and they remain committed to their craft. What they lack in pizzazz, they more than make up for in quality and service. I am a lifelong customer, yet I’ve never seen an ad. Heck, I doubt they even have a website, let alone a social media staff. Delivering extreme quality and value is the best marketing tactic of all.

In our businesses, it’s easy to become seduced by new trends, fancy gimmicks, and the lure of cosmetic makeovers. Let’s not forget what really matters to customers. Taking a “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” approach may yield a far better result than adding some new overpriced feature or fancy marketing trick.

Take another look at your organization through the lens of a dedicated Dive chef. Embrace this approach, and — in the words of Guy Fieri — you’ll be “riding the bus to flavortown.”

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