Authenticity, Being Awesome, Motivation

Finding Passion

Why do we feel the need to chase passion?

I see it more and more often with life coaches and consultants telling you if your work doesn’t light a fire under you, then you should jump to somewhere warmer. Sure. You could. But why does it have to exist elsewhere, in some field on the other side where the grass is pretty dang green? (Unless you’re on that side, then it doesn’t look as green as you remember.)

We need to be engaged in our work. And our employers want us to be engaged. Engaged people outperform their peers by 147%. (Gallup, 2018) But why can’t we make our own engagement?

I get the draw of going rogue and starting something that is your own, like a food truck. That siren song has called to me too. (mine would be called Let’s Taco ‘Bout It) And it’s tempting because we hear about people who’ve successfully made the jump. We don’t hear about (or listen to) all the ones who jump and don’t make it.

However, it’s not the food truck that is really calling me… it’s the creative control and ability to own some decisions. There’s a root cause, a core mechanic, that makes it attractive.

As a good, ten-minute thought experiment, sit down with a passion you feel calling you; telling you to jump. Ask yourself the five whys, and answer with candor, to get to the core mechanic of that passion. Then plan small action steps to make that passion where you are. It may have to start tiny with side projects or little bits and pieces here and there, but this is an opportunity to make where you are better. This is where innovation comes from! Plus you get to take control and ownership of your experience instead of relying on other people to engage you.

You love boardgames. You are inspired by writing poetry. Your heart is full when you are baking. Whatever it is, there are elements you can bring to any job. You just have to take ownership of being the one who brings it.

Stop hunting for passion in the green grass on the other side, and start planting it where you are.

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Authenticity, Being Awesome, Persona, Understanding the Customer

Marching to the Beat of Your Own Drummers

Knowing your audience has long been touted as a key to success. Yet time after time, we find ourselves trying to speak with too broad of an audience, or making a product that tries to please everyone. In the end, it pleases no one.

There is no better example of knowing your audience than Fred Armisen.

Image result for fred armisen standup for drummers

Fred Armisen created Portlandia with Carrie Brownstein. This is a show rooted in making light of the quirky and free culture in Portland, Oregon.

Fred Armisen created Documentary Now with Bill Hader and Seth Meyers. This is a show that parodies the nuances of various documentary styles and tropes.

Fred Armisen recently released a Netflix comedy special, Standup for Drummers. This is a whole comedy special with inside jokes aimed at, you guessed it… drummers.

It’s not that Armisen finds a narrow audience that is desperate for attention. It’s that he finds HIS audience. The projects Armisen chooses to pursue are things that interest him; places he loves, skills he admires, and experiences he shares. Watching him interact with his narrow audience is the realest kind of real. And you can feel it.

Because his real audience is himself.

“There’s something that I can’t describe about the city [Portland] that I really love – just physically – how it feels to walk around there, and have coffee there. Also, the way that it’s a little overcast sometimes. Something about Portland just really resonated with me.” – Fred Armisen

You don’t have to be part of the inner circle. I encourage you to watch Standup for Drummers. Even though you may not get every joke (I didn’t), you get lured in by Armisen’s passion, his prose, his charisma talking about the funny-to-him aspects of something he appreciates.

But what I really want to challenge you with is this.

Don’t try to make the next extremely profitable thing. Don’t attempt to create the next disruptive to the industry thing. Don’t go make the thing you think everyone will want.

Make something that is important to you, on the deep down soul level. Make something about another thing you love. And then… share it with people just like you.

Your realness. Your soul. Your connection with the topic and the people who share the same connection. It will all shine.

 

 

 

 

Authenticity, Culture, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Uncategorized

Growing a Culture of Innovation

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust. -Gertrude Jekyll

My dad was a football coach and told me that what you see your team do in the game is either a product of your coaching, or bad habits you let go uncorrected in practice. It’s just as true in gardening. What you see in your flower bed, you either planted or you let it grow.

A company or team culture is just like a football team and a garden. If what you see in your team’s culture is not what you want it to be, then you either have mechanics that reinforce it, or it has taken root and you haven’t weeded it out. It takes a growing a culture of innovation. You must nurture mindsets that are confident in creativity, not afraid to fail, and realize that disruptive innovation is a team sport (not a solo one).

Weeding

I think the trickiest part to understand about creating a culture of innovation is that what you weed out is just as important as what you plant and water. Don’t just decide what to be, also decide what you won’t be. Weeds make an astounding amount of seeds once the start flowering. For example, crabgrass produces around 50,000 seeds per plant. You have to weed your culture early, often, and consistently. Great cultures don’t happen with negligence. It takes effort and intention.

Planting

Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade. -Rudyard Kipling

While each garden can be personalized based on what you want to harvest, they all have some systems in common. In a culture of innovation, how you accomplish these systems should be tailored to make them authentic to your needs, pain points, and products.

A freedom to fail

Innovation and gardening both require you to get your hands dirty. But it needs to go deeper than saying your team has the freedom to fail. This one requires you to go deeper and create a micro-culture within your culture.

  • Candor
    • Innovation demands that people are able to call problems out as they see them. There is no room for false pretense here. Everyone has ideas and everyone needs to have a voice. Friends don’t let friends ship mediocre products.
  • Performance not tied to success
    • Everyone needs goals for the year. But what goals are set as key performance indicators, that’s the type of work they will do. If the KPI’s are around sales and profit, then you won’t get innovation. You get sales optimization. Think about setting a required number of prototypes or a base number of user interviews. Start with the end goal in mind and then set metrics that help people focus on and achieve those goals.
    • Keep in mind that the key by-product of an innovative culture is learning. Learning new things that work, and learning new ways it won’t work. Both can be equally valuable.
  • Little bets
    • Innovative staff have to be able to take those wild chances and chase those crazy ideas. Set up a structure that allows people to pursue those passionate projects, but doesn’t create a big draw on resources. If a prototype is deemed “cheap” to produce, then it minimizes the bottom line impact when it fails. People will be willing to take more chances if they don’t feel like they will negatively impact the organization.
  • Reflection time / resources
    • If you want to grow watermelons, then you have to plant watermelons. If you want to grow innovation, then you have to give your team time and resources to do it. Like… officially. If your team’s week is already packed full with normal tasks, they won’t get to the innovation. Set an organizational expectation that X hours are devoted to passion projects and Y resources are set aside to build them.

A flat conversation hierarchy

  • Anyone can talk to anyone. In an innovative culture, there isn’t time for a corporate version of the telephone game. The more people ideas have to pass through, the more diluted they become.
  • Work to reduce barriers to the sharing of ideas, to the building of camaraderie across job functions. You don’t hire cheers players and then use them as chess pieces. Let them play the game together.

No products or processes are sacred

  • Everything is up for disruption and if it’s good enough for your products, it’s good enough for your internal process.
  • It is possible to create a list of “untouchables”, but for every item on that list, you are leaving the door open in the market for someone to upend you.

Plenty of conversations with clients

  • Everyone should be involved in empathy field trips. Experience the product with clients. Understand what they say and think.
  • The longer your team’s boots are off the ground, you exponentially lose the vision of the user. It’s similar to how strong a light is. The further from the source you are, the more diffused the brightness of the light becomes.

As you build your culture of innovation, remember that is is a combination of two activities: planting what you want to grow and weeding out what you don’t want. And it’s not a passive process. It takes effort and intention. It’s also ok to not get it right the first time because you’re innovating too. You’re innovating with culture. Just keep an eye on where you want to be, establish mechanics that allow that to happen, and keep tweaking the formula. Because when it comes down to a culture of innovation, it’s weed ’em and reap.


Check out more of Go Forth and Be Awesome‘s Authentic Innovation series

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Authenticity, Uncategorized

Phonebook SEO: Being First vs Being You

It was 12:34 pm. We were stopped behind a large truck, sitting at a red light. Unable to see anything but the monolithic back-end of the semi, I stared at the letters to occupy the 30 seconds until we could drive again.

AAA Cooper Transportation

Along with the words was their abbreviation as a logo. ACT. Which made me ask out loud “So the A stands for… AAA?”

By wanting an abbreviation as a logo, they forced a new purpose on their name that served a completely different purpose: to come first alphabetically. It’s like having the wrong tool for the job.

 

phonebook
Who wouldn’t want to come first of this tome of telephone numbers?

Not long ago, companies altered their names to be first in the phone book. Today we use SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to show up at the top of the list when people are searching for answers. People used to be the search engine and the phone book was the database. It’s not alphabetical anymore, it is based on keywords, links, and more.

 

Life is hard at the top. There are many players vying for the coveted first page. In fact, Googling “how to be on the first page of google” yields 158,000 results. That’s just for learning how to do it!

Luckily, it’s not about being first anymore.

“It doesn’t bother us that we are second, third, fourth or fifth if we still have the best. We don’t feel embarrassed because it took us longer to get it right.” – Tim Cook

Apple’s Tim Cook raises the point that he’d rather be the best than the first. And it works because of how Cook ties it to their company’s mission. It is authentically Apple. “Our North Star is making the best products that really enrich people’s lives…”

So if everyone is optimizing for search engines, who is optimizing for the customer?

Who is optimizing for authentic connections?

Who is optimizing for the long game?

Lee Clow tweeted, or rather, Lee Clow’s beard tweeted “Ads need two things: a reason to pay attention and a reason to be glad attention was paid.” SEO helps people pay attention to you. Like a carnival barker it draws people in. And they’re willing to pay the price of admission and walk through the entrance to the red and white striped tent. Now that they’re here, all you have to figure out is one thing.

How will you make them glad?