Your Real Job Goes Far Beyond Your Role

Posted on December 21, 2014 by Josh Linkner

It’s not my job.

Four of the most poisonous words when strung together. As a customer, how many times have you heard this stinging phrase when seeking help? Think how utterly frustrated you become when the person at the pharmacy, cable company, doctor’s office, or government office absolves themselves of any responsibility to serve by hiding behind their job description. Your blood boils as the full force of their apathy hits you in the face like a billowing wind on a frigid day.

On the other hand, remember how delighted you felt the last time someone went above and beyond for you. When your waiter suggested a better table, offering you a more stunning view. Or the time your flight attendant noticed you looked chilly and rushed you over a warm blanket. You were likely overwhelmed with gratitude, and your opinion of the company that these caring people represent just gained some serious loyalty.

Unfortunately, leaders too often pigeonhole team members into thinking about their jobs with a myopic lens. Sure, we all have tasks on our to-do lists. But there’s also a greater mission at hand — to help fulfill the purpose of the organization. Hospitals heal the sick, not just process intake forms. Cruise lines provide memorable experiences for guests, not just open and close the buffet on time. If every team member merely completes tasks, long-term success becomes elusive. However, driving the importance of the bigger picture enables the team members to use their creativity and judgment to make a far bigger impact.

Back when I was building my company, ePrize, a junior software developer acted on a hunch. She was working on a big project and all her own tasks were on track. But, she could feel in her bones that something was off. Without a fancy leadership title, she rallied the 12-person project team to have daily stand-up meetings where they reviewed code, compared notes and ensured overall progress. The project, which would have been doomed without her valiant efforts, launched on-time, without a hitch. Success came because she realized that her actual job was to create a win for her client and our company, not to hide behind her task list.

As you lead — in your company, community or profession — make sure those around you know what the real job is. If you’re not in a leadership role yet, the more often you make things your job by taking ownership of a larger mission, the faster you will advance.

 

Paying It Forward

Posted on December 14, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Motorists recently enjoyed a friendly turn of fate in Lowell, Michigan. As drivers were pulled over by the police for small infractions (such as having tinted windows that were too dark), officers began a pleasant chat instead of grumpily issuing a citation.

In conversation, the officers also asked what the drivers and their kids wanted for Christmas.

The unsuspecting drivers had no idea that the officers were on a live radio, which was being broadcast to a team of shoppers ready to sprint through stores and rush over surprise purchases. Stunned drivers were overjoyed as officers handed over holiday gifts instead of speeding tickets.

Gifts included TVs, an Xbox, Legos, and other exciting items that brought tears of joy to some of the recipients.

Rather than having a negative experience with the police, this act of kindness created a positive interaction and paved the way for strong police-citizen relations in the Lowell community. A TV station that filmed the joyful surprises paid for the gifts, so not a cent of taxpayer money was consumed. The result: a creative, pay-it-forward approach to leaving a positive impact.

Police Paying It Forward

Paying it forward is not a new concept. My wife recently bought a coffee for the woman behind her in line at Starbucks, simply to create a smile and improve someone’s day. Small acts of kindness and generosity, often issued at random, can brighten even the cloudiest days.

This concept can be extended far beyond a small gift, and in turn, the results become amplified. Paying it forward by mentoring an up-and-comer in your field, for example, not only creates a new friend but also elevates your profession. Contributing your time to help disadvantaged kids learn to read, picking up slack for a colleague, or going the distance for a customer are all examples of injecting positive energy into the world.

It turns out, there is a big return-on-investment, especially when you’re not seeking one. In my experience, the more you give, the more you get. The payoff may come back to you in unexpected ways when you least expect it. Worst case, the feelings of helping others is itself a powerful reward.

Think what would happen in our organizations and community, if each of us paid it forward once a week. Little acts of unrequested generosity would begin to build on each other, creating a large and meaningful impact.

Let’s use the holiday season as a time to drive progress by helping others. Ironically, you’ll likely enjoy strong, direct benefits as a result. The next time you feel annoyed, try issuing kindness instead of a reprimand. You’ll feel much better, and you’ll be making the good folks in the town of Lowell proud.

186 Hours Wasted

Posted on December 7, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Although we boarded early, my flight out of Detroit was delayed by 63 minutes.

The weather was clear, there were no mechanical issues, and the crew was ready to roll. The cause of our tardy takeoff? A bureaucratic procedural glitch that required sign-off from airline headquarters. This completely avoidable issue impacted 177 travelers aboard our MD90 aircraft, causing a total of about 186 wasted hours.

Everyone seemed to accept the setback in good spirit. At least it appeared that way — air marshals didn’t forcibly remove any passengers. We all took the loss in stride, which wasn’t surprising to me considering we’re so accustomed to wasting small amounts of time.

But what could have been accomplished with those 186 lost hours of human potential?

Spent on a treadmill, the time would have burnt off more 37 pounds of fat. Spent in college, the number of lost minutes exceed the classroom time of a typical full-time college semester — 186 hours spent learning an instrument, volunteering, making cold calls, or reading to your kids would all be a big boost of positive momentum. Yet no one seemed to mind.

The reason for our collective apathy — we each lost only a single hour, which happens often. Now if you were wrongfully locked up in the county jail for a week, you’d be outraged. But when time is stolen in small increments, we hardly notice. We let these small moments of opportunity slip away without waging even a hint of a fight.

Fortunately, we can use the same logic to drive incredible gains in our lives. In the same way we hardly notice small amounts of lost time, taking back tiny opportunities for productivity isn’t a huge mountain to scale. If you managed to reclaim just 33 minutes a day, for example, you’d score an extra 200 hours of progress each year. While it’s impossible for many of us to find huge blocks of time to write a novel, get in great shape, or learn a new craft, a focus on saving just a few minutes each day can add up to enormous gains.

We all face the same 24-hour clock, yet some accomplish dramatically more than others. You could smoke a cigarette for seven minutes (140 minutes for a pack a day) or spend that time learning a new skill. You could burn 25 minutes each way in rush hour traffic, or adjust your schedule to avoid it. Redirect the small, seemingly meaningless blocks of time into productive uses, and you’ll be amazed what you can achieve. Take control of the clock and seize these “micro-opportunities.” Before long, you’ll be racing toward your goals.

And unlike my delayed flight, you’ll reach your destination with an early arrival.

Stop Chasing Unicorns — Get Passionate About What You Already Do

Posted on November 30, 2014 by Josh Linkner

The easily given advice has become cliché: follow your passion and everything will turn out dandy.

Problem is, we can’t all be movie stars, professional athletes, or ballerinas. There’s a difference between an achievable dream and a fantasy. For example, I probably will never get drafted for the NBA at 5-foot-5 and 44 years old. Does that mean I should resign myself to a life of drudgery and soulless clock-punching and minimal impact?

Certainly the world needs Broadway performers and astronauts, but it also needs financial planners, drywall installers and farmers. You need not pursue a career based on your childhood dreams in order to find meaning and purpose in your work, and to achieve at the highest levels.

Take Mike McCloskey. Originally trained as a vet, he transitioned into a career in the dairy business. While not a trapeze artist or supermodel, McCloskey racks up wins until the cows come home. Quite literally. He is the cofounder and CEO of Select Milk Producers, the fourth-largest milk cooperative in the U.S. He’s the chairman of Southwest Cheese, which converts 10 million pounds of milk per day into 250 million pounds of cheese annually. He’s also the chairman of Fair Oaks Farms in northwest Indiana, an agritourism destination that makes milk, cheese and ice cream from the 15,000 cows on the property.

McCloskey’s passion may have been singing in a barbershop quartet. But instead of chasing an unrealistic passion, he decided to get passionate about his work.

So what did McCloskey get passionate about? Manure! That’s right. The thousands of cows in his business produce a whole lot of the smelly stuff, which is a big expense, giant mess and distracting hassle for workers.

He directed his best thinking to this problem, even though it wasn’t as sexy as becoming an Olympic gold medalist. McCloskey had an idea to turn this waste product into a profit center. To flip it from a problem to an asset.

The innovation came to life as Poo Power. The manure is processed and turned into energy, which fuels vehicles and creates electricity to power all of their barns and plants. They power 42 milk trucks and save 70 million diesel miles annually. Huge cost savings. Huge positive impact to the environment. Huge innovation.

You don’t have to become a celebrity chef or an urban poet to pursue meaning and impact. Getting passionate about what you do — even if it is the least glamorous aspect of all — can become a source of inspiration, positive change and meaningful results.

Find the opportunity right in front of you, and instead of a distasteful stench, you’ll end up smelling like roses.

 

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.

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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.