Posted on March 22, 2015 by Josh Linkner

In just 60 seconds, Taylor Swift sold out all 18,200 seats at Madison Square Garden. Her music, and the experience she creates for fans, is irresistible.

Fistfights have broken out as eager customers battle it out to get a pair of Nike limited editions kicks.

In contrast, think about the cover band in the lobby of the nearby hotel, playing to a half-full room of apathetic listeners who offer neither money nor applause. Or the wide selection of athletic shoes available and readily in stock for under $30 at your local Walmart.

In nearly every industry, there are products and services that are bland, boring and basic. And then, there are the few that are irresistible. Bill Clinton has earned more than $100 million delivering speeches, yet most public speakers are lucky to earn a chicken dinner at the local Rotary Club.

So what makes Taylor Swift, Nike, and Bill Clinton irresistible, and how can you harness the same verve for your business? Here are four key ingredients:

■ Go to extremes. Irresistible products, services and people are typically extreme cases. They offer the absolute highest quality. Or lowest price. Or most extreme experience. They are the loudest or quietest; the biggest or smallest. Rarely do you find irresistibility in the middle of the pack.

■ Become unapologetic. Costco doesn’t try to be a plush retailer. Floyd Mayweather doesn’t pretend to be humble. Being irresistible means being authentic and unabashed. Take a stand, and never try to be all things to all people.

■ Tempt with exclusivity. The fear of missing out on something scarce boosts your irresistible factor. Limited editions, exclusive offers and scarce supply drive demand. The more rare, the more results.

■ Create emotional connections. Delivering on basic product or service expectations doesn’t create differentiation; being competent is merely the ante to play. Creating meaningful experiences with each interaction leads to being irresistible. Do you and your offering delight all five senses of your customers, audience or colleagues? If not, time to take it up a notch.

Even in challenging financial times, the Hermes Birkin bag is only available for the company’s most loyal customers. It’s so exclusive that mere mortals like us can’t walk into a store, plunk down $12,000-$20,000, and walk out with one of these purses.

The bags are so irresistible, that fashionistas often pay double (or more) to snag a used one on eBay.

What would it take to make you and your company just as irresistible? Instead of wasting money to market a mediocre product, make it irresistible. To advance in your career, make yourself irresistible to those you serve.

Alluring. Tempting. Desirable. When you amp up these factors, customers, investors and employers simply won’t be able to resist.

A Surprisingly Simple Competitive Advantage

Posted on March 15, 2015 by Josh Linkner

My flight landed in Norfolk, Va., 45 minutes late. On that bright and sunny day, I’m told by the airline it was “Due to a delay from the inbound aircraft.” Oh thanks, that made me feel much better.

Anyway, I had a car service scheduled to meet me at baggage claim. They knew I was coming, could easily track my inbound aircraft, and yet … they don’t bother to show up for 20 minutes. Next, I’m scolded for having the nerve to even ask why they’re running late.

The next day, on a flight from Atlanta, we board on time and taxi to our takeoff position. Just before liftoff, the captain announces, “Folks, sorry about this but we need to go back to the gate to pick up some VIP crew members. Orders from the company.”

By the time we go back to pick up two pilots and get back to the runway, we waste a full hour. That’s right, this major airline wasted an hour of 234 paying customers’ time so they could reposition their own crew. The kicker? There was another flight leaving to the same destination that ended up arriving less than 10 minutes later than our delayed journey.

Think about the impact that wasting time has on customer preference and loyalty. I’m sure you’ve had dozens of moments when your blood boils as organizations that you patronize waste your precious time. Money is a replaceable asset, but you can’t earn more time. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Which makes the offense of wasting time all the more offensive.

We’re all looking to get ahead in our companies and careers. We seek out new ideas to gain competitive advantage; to produce better results. Here’s a simple approach to consider — deeply connect with the value of your customers’ time, and direct your energies toward preserving it. While it sounds stunningly obvious, common sense is not always common practice.

The question of “How can I save my customers time?” should remain front and center, whether you’re a grocery store, airline or accountant. Can you shorten lines? Reduce the number of online clicks when placing an order? Shorten customer service wait times? Get your customers back to their families faster? Cut down waiting room times in your medical practice?

In an era where we look for fancy ways to leverage technology or craft complex algorithms to influence buying patterns, let’s get back to good old-fashioned caring about our customers. If you think of your job not only as your functional role but also as the steward of your customer’s time, you’ll drive better outcomes for both of you.

The simple opportunity to win and keep customers: speed things up and demonstrate respect for the one thing they can never replenish — time.

Your Partner In Crime

Posted on March 8, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Batman and Robin. Ernie and Bert. Han Solo and Chewbacca. Powerful duos have been a success formula throughout history. Lennon and McCartney. The Wright Brothers. Sergey and Larry (Google founders). Progress often comes in pairs.

Batman and Robin

Today many of us are our own islands. We build our personal brands, focus on self-improvement, and remain staunchly loyal to our own goals. The challenge is that going at it alone can actually be a recipe for disappointing outcomes. In contrast, teaming up can be a powerful mechanism to reach higher levels of performance.

Both Rodgers and Hammerstein were individually talented musicians, but when they collaborated their creativity soared to a whole new level.  While already dedicated and talented, every Olympic athlete has a coach in order to optimize his or her performance. In nearly all areas of life – from business to scientific discovery to politics – the biggest breakthroughs often come as a combo meal.

As you look to take your game to the next level, you don’t have to make a permanent commitment to a partner for all aspects of your life.  Instead, think of the things you hope to improve and seek a partner in crime for each of them.  Want to improve your fitness level?  Studies show that having a workout partner will improve your results by up to 60% and reduce the likelihood you’ll drop out by over 300%. Want to read and learn more? Joining a study group or book club will provide the external accountability you need to get the job done and get more out of it.

You can harness the same impact of a workout buddy in your career. Big idea: select a trusted “success partner,” with whom you agree to meet regularly for six months.  In every meeting, review each other’s goals and commitments and hold each other accountable for follow though. Challenge each other and provide ideas and support to achieve more. Track and measure results, and you will be blown away with the impact after your six-month trial run. From there, you can choose to stay with that person or perhaps shift to a new partner for fresh perspectives.

Bonnie and Clyde. Spaghetti and Meatballs. Simon and Garfunkel. Pair up, and achieve more.

Comments Off

Rising From Rejection

Posted on March 1, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Jack Ma is China’s richest man. He’s also the 12th-wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth of $29.7 billion, according to Forbes. Ma is the founder of Alibaba, an e-commerce company that’s the equivalent of in China.

He launched a multibillion-dollar company and became one of the most financially successful people alive, so you might imagine he was always a superstar. Not by a long shot. As a young man, Ma failed the college entrance exam three times in a row. He applied for 30 different jobs, getting turned down for all of them.

“I went for a job with the police; they said, ‘You’re no good,’ ” Ma told Charlie Rose in an interview. “I even went to KFC when it came to my city. Twenty-four people went for the job. Twenty-three were accepted. I was the only guy… .” Ma was also rejected by numerous banks for loans and didn’t turn a profit for his first three years in business.

How could someone who ended up so wildly successful have been rejected?

It turns out this is a common theme. J.K. Rowling, the billionaire author of the Harry Potter series of books and movies, saw her manuscript rejected by 12 different publishers before one took a risk on her. Steve Jobs was rejected by more than 20 venture capitalists when trying to raise money for Apple, which now is the most valuable company in the world, worth more than $700 billion.

We all get rejected, but the best-of-the-best are able to dust themselves off and rise from their setbacks, further emboldened to succeed. Imagine if Jobs, Ma or Rowling gave up, becoming discouraged and forfeiting their dreams. Not only would their potential have been squandered, but also the world would be worse off, having never benefited from their contributions.

If you are pursuing anything worthwhile, you will likely be met with resistance. Rather than internalizing negative feedback, rejections or setbacks as a life-sentence of failure, realize these judgments do not define you. You have the capacity to learn, grow and rise above those who would rather criticize from the sidelines than take a risk and create something of their own.

In life, rejection is highly likely. How you choose to respond is what will define you, not the setback itself. In the words of Vince Lombardi, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.”

When you stumble, let it fuel your commitment to win rather than derail your mission. Don’t empower those who reject. Instead, muster up the strength to prove them wrong.

Comments Off

Herds Are For Animals

Posted on February 22, 2015 by Josh Linkner

“Our company offers great service and affordable pricing.” 

“We really care about our customers.”

“One call does it all!”

Perhaps platitudes that lack specificity and depth worked 20 years ago.  But in our fist-fighting competitive arena, these flimsy claims say nothing at all.  Your customers and prospects want to know, need to know: What truly makes you different? In a world full of options, unless you can answer this question with precision, you may soon be in the very difficult position of systematically losing to your competition.

I ask the “what makes you different?” question constantly to people in a wide array of organizations – from financial planners to speaker bureaus, from personal trainers to universities.  Remarkably, I rarely hear a solid response. The most common reply is “Great question! We really need to come up with something better to say.”  The second most common is some characteristic that is just the ante to play such as great service, attention to detail, or high integrity.  Those qualities are important, but a competitive differentiator they are not.  Instead, I want to hear a sentence that starts with, “We’re the ONLY company that….”

With fickle consumers, dwindling loyalty, and over-the-top marketing, you can’t afford to blend in.  And being 3% different doesn’t cut it either.  You need to be able to clearly articulate why you are a one-of-a-kind, truly differentiated organization to win and keep customers.  Focus more on what makes you different instead of the things that are the industry norms.  Customers crave – and will pay handsomely for – originality, not conformity.

The super-smart folks at The Gartner Group came up with a simple diagnostic tool: the Competitive Swap Test.  Simply swap out your name for a competitor’s name while making a claim.  If the phrase still holds true, you haven’t said enough to stand out.  If you boast great response times, but could swap in three competitors’ names that also have similar responsiveness, you fail the test.  You need to find deeper, stronger points of differentiation to win the hearts and minds of your customers.

Think of your favorite brands or organizations, and you’ll likely see they stand apart from the pack in your mind, easily beating the Competitive Swap Test with their brand promise, features, and benefits.  To drive your own business – or even your career – start crafting the story of what makes you different.  When your answer is powerful, and you can deliver against the promise, you become unstoppable.

Herds are for animals.  Break away, and run free.

Comments Off

15 Powerful Ideas

Posted on February 15, 2015 by Josh Linkner

“You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction.”
~ Edward deBono

“Out there is an entrepreneur who’s forging a bullet with your company’s name on it. You’ve got only one option – to shoot first.”
~ Gary Hamel

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.”
~ Arthur Schopenhauer

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
~ Charles Mingus

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
~ John Steinbeck

“What would have drawn a “wow” fifteen years ago won’t draw a yawn today.”
~ Steve Wynn

“If you see a snake, just kill it. Don’t appoint a committee on snakes.”
~ Ross Perot

“The mind is like a garden, plant flowers, you get flowers. Plant weeds, you get weeds. Plant nothing, you get weeds.”
~ Unknown

“Man who says it cannot be done should not interrupt man doing it.”
~ Chinese Proverb

“One can never truly savor success until first tasting adversity.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 “Only the humble improve.”
~ Wynton Marsalis

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”
~ General Erick Shinseki

“Children are happy because they don’t have a file in their minds called ‘All the Things That Could Go Wrong.’”
~ Marianne Williamson

“Don’t stumble over something behind you.”
~ Seneca

“Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who couldn’t hear the music.”
~ Unknown

Comments Off

Think Like a Beginner

Posted on February 8, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Imagine taking up a new hobby such as playing the guitar or learning tennis.

You’d begin this process lacking any previous knowledge, so you’d be completely open to learn. With no preconceived notions, you are bound by no tradition and thus fully able to embrace the possibilities.

In contrast, getting an “expert” to take a fresh approach is about as difficult as getting someone to change his or her position on politics or religion.

Achieving success in a profession or craft yields many benefits, but also is accompanied by the downside of believing you’ve figured it all out.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” you may rationalize. “Don’t rock the apple cart” is a torrid phrase that has seduced many smart people into a false sense of security.

The truth is, mastery is a temporary state that happens in the context of many external factors. So high achievement, therefore, is a not a permanent condition but rather a moment in time onto which success can either be built or depleted.

In Eastern philosophy, Zen masters strive to have an “empty cup.” An empty cup has plenty of room to accept a fresh pour of tea, but a cup that is already full has no room left for anything new.

On the path toward self-mastery, monks meditate and work toward the state of having a completely empty and open mind so they have plenty of room to accept new ideas. This empty cup philosophy is known as a “beginner’s mind” — fully open to embrace the new.

In your career, you may have hit a limit, which ironically was created by your own success. Once you get good at something, human nature is to keep doing it the same way.

The problem is, like the teacup, when you think you’ve got it all figured you, you leave no room for fresh approaches. This fullness leads to complacency, which in turn often yields to crushing defeat at the hands of innovative competitors who possess the beginner’s mind.

To break free from the shackles of the past and to take your game to the next level, approach your challenges with the newness of a beginner. Let go of what you’ve done in the past, and choose your strategy based on merit rather than tradition.

Upon his death, the founder of the Judo, Jigoro Kano, insisted that he be buried in his white belt instead of his advanced and highly-decorated black belt. In the ultimate act of humility, the most advanced master in the field wanted to spend eternity with a beginner’s mind, open to learning rather than being defined by his previous accomplishments.

Embrace the beginner’s mind in your career, company and community, and you will discover new paths to better outcomes. Judo-flip your approach from the expert to the beginner, and new possibilities will appear.

Comments Off

The Secret to Beat the ‘Big Decision Trap’

Posted on February 1, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Making decisions can be downright scary. What if you make the wrong call? What if the new initiative turns out to hurt more than help (remember the launch of New Coke?)

“I’d better be careful not to screw things up,” you tell yourself. “Don’t push the envelope. Just keep it safe.”

Think how much effort it takes to pass a new law. Months of sub-committee meetings, political back channeling, public hearings, voter polling. The result? A system that sorely lacks innovation and agility.

As we make decisions in our own lives — ranging from big moves in business to smaller, personal choices — we tend to put the weight of the world on our shoulders. The nagging impulse to avoid mistakes, get it right, and not lose ground can paralyze our ability to try new things. Accordingly, many businesses and individuals remain stuck in the quicksand of the status quo.

To crack through this barrier, try this fresh approach: rather than viewing a decision as a written-in-stone, life-or-death morass, reframe it as an experiment. Put on your imaginary lab jacket, and picture yourself as a scientist doing research in a lab.

Breakthrough innovations such as curing disease with a new drug therapy come from a series of experiments, not a single idea that is instantly hatched in a perfect state. In fact, most major innovations are the result of a series of experiments, which encounter setbacks, mistakes, and roadblocks. The act of progress, therefore, is a process of discovery, not a single lightning bolt of inspiration.

Many of us have fresh ideas for change, but view the situation as binary: Either fully embrace the new idea and risk everything, or don’t pursue it at all. I suggest you forgo this all-or-nothing trap in favor of experimentation. Break the idea down into one or more experiments, where you can test your new vision without betting the farm. If you’re trying to effectuate change at your company, bosses are often reluctant to ratify permanent changes but have a healthy appetite for experiments.

The same logic applies personally. Even small decisions such as your route to work, Thursday’s dinner menu, or which friend to invite to the game can be enhanced by viewing them as experiments. Inject more experiments into your weekly routine, and you’ll uncover fresh possibilities.

In the words of American poet and musician Tuli Kupferberg, “When patterns are broken, new worlds can emerge.”

Don’t wait for an act of Congress to embrace new ideas. Minimize the pressure of making permanent decisions through regular and systematic experimentation. Give that whacky idea a shot — not by instituting a new policy, but by conducting an experiment. When the pressure is off, your creativity will soar.

Comments Off

Tough + Love = Great Leadership

Posted on January 25, 2015 by Josh Linkner

Teachings of the Far East explain the concept of yin/yang. In order to achieve balance, and ultimately success, we need to have oppositional forces present and equal. This is obvious in our relationships, as oftentimes opposites attract – personalities, talent areas, skill sets, hobbies, etc. This differentiation between partners is what keeps things interesting and dynamic. Functionally, the same thing happens as you build a team – it doesn’t make sense to have people who all can do the same thing; instead, gather those who work differently from one another to maximize the group’s success. While the yin/yang dynamic is perhaps most obvious with multiple people, the concept works well for our own internal balancing act, too.

As a leader, it’s never been more important to focus on the combination of “tough” and “love” when dealing with your team members. If there’s too much of one or too much of another, the leader becomes an ineffective manager. Think about it – if you’re all tough, you’ve been deemed a jerk boss. The byproduct of this is that you end up with poorly performing employees who are over-stressed and constantly live in fear of whatever you’ll do next. On the other hand, if you’re all love, you have no accountability, which means no results – good campfire songs don’t pay the bills… revenue does.

However, when you combine these two oppositional traits and lead with tough + love, you’re on a path toward success. If people know you have their best interest in mind, they won’t question your motives when you make a suggestion or provide direct feedback. Similarly, if your team members feel like you believe in them, they won’t begrudge the accountability measures you put in place. Those targets (and tracking mechanisms) simply become a way for them to write down all the goals they’ve met, rather than feeling as if they fell short. When it’s clear that you truly want to help them improve, they’ll be willing to stretch themselves and take on a demanding workload, in the name of their own personal growth.

So how can you achieve this yin/yang as a leader?

Set high standards, but with good reason. Make sure your employees know that expectations are high and that their output will be judged at a gold standard. However, also give yourself a sanity check. Don’t assign more work simply for the sake of having done so. Make sure you understand, and have fully explained, the logic behind a task, so that all team members involved have a buy-in to its importance. If they don’t, it will never be completed to the level you’d desire.

Get to know each team member directly.  Make sure that you sit down with every single employee one-on-one regularly for a meeting with just that person as the agenda item. What are his personal career goals in the short term? What does she hope to learn? Where does he need to grow? How much more would she like to take on? How’s life at home? By taking a true interest into each person’s standing (both personally and within the company), your employees will feel more inclined to work toward the goals they laid out, rather than a project you outlined in a team huddle.

Live up to your word. When things don’t happen the way they should have, enact that accountability you had introduced. Likewise, when you’ve promised something for a goal achieved, stand by that. When your team can trust you when you say anything (for better or for worse), they’ll be more willing to stake their career goals on your promises.

Effective leadership involves the artful combination of these seemingly conflicting approaches. It’s not easy to master this delicate balance, but if it’s done right, it can be the driving force of your own progress.

Avoiding Almost

Posted on January 18, 2015 by Josh Linkner

He almost closed the deal.  She almost got that big promotion.  They almost won the championship.  Almost.

Near misses can be especially frustrating, since you did almost enough work to make it happen.  When a pro football team carries the ball 90 yards down the field, that progress was the sum of great strategy, precision, agility, and powerful execution.  But when they fumble on the two yard-line and fail to put points on the board, all that effort fell short of driving any results.  We live in a binary world, where almost is the often the same as nothing at all.

To make it to almost, you must have done a lot of things right.  When you almost won that $10 million contract, you had to have a great presentation, solid pricing, a quality product, and a professional team.  If you were incompetent, you’d never even get close to almost.  Getting to almost probably required focus, creativity, hard work, endless hours, sacrifice, and investment.

Almost is quite a wrenched state, since it required nearly as much effort as winning yet yielded zero results.  If you were going to miss the brass ring altogether, you could have made it home for dinner or had time to exercise.  With nearly all the work without a lick of payback, almost sucks.

So how do we avoid almost?  The best of the best build their plans to over-deliver against the goal to accommodate for the inevitable.  If hitting an annual sales target requires six sales people, the best leaders make sure to hire eight.  If one quits unexpectedly, the leader with contingency still makes the grade while the one who barely planned to win suffers though a bewildered state of almost.

If you’re fighting for something big, what are the steps you can take to ensure victory?  What moves will put you over the top and separate you from the competitive pack?  In these challenging times, photo-finish victories are won or lost in the margins.  The little extras, the over-delivers, the bursts of extraordinary.  If your game plan is built to deliver 30% past your target, your much more likely to avoid the almost and reach your goal.  The extra effort between winning and being an also-ran is minute compared to the exertion it took to barely miss.

When you’re pursuing life’s biggest goals, an extra dose of effort is often the difference maker.  If you have the energy to make it to almost, you can muster the resolve to break through it.  The next time someone tells you to pause since you’ve already done enough to win, put your shoulder into an extra burst of work and simply tell them… “almost.”

Comments Off