Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cubicles and The ESPYS

Witnessing an individual reach their full potential and operate out of that space is inspiring and could be the principle, if applied, that sets our businesses and careers on a path to achieve great things.

Last night I watched the ESPY Awards hosted by Drake. Drake, you know, the Young Money Cash Money, actor turned emo-rapper, the one who said he was the greatest before he ever was? I could launch into a full on review of the show and how Drake did, however, that’s not where I want to take this. I’ll leave those kinds of things to Bleacher Report. I will say though, Blake and Drake and the Lance-cam were by far some of the funniest skits I've seen in quite some time. As I watched clip after clip of sports moments form the past year I remember the emotions those moments caused and even watched the hairs on my arms raise as the chills rushed through my body watching these clips again. Why do sports do this to us? Why do sports so captivate us that there is now an awards show annually held to honor these sports moments? I’d say the same way the U.S. Men’s National Team captivated us as a country is the same general feelings brought upon by hearing a talented artist belt out a beautiful ballad. What can explain the goose bumps that fill our arms when we interact with an elite athlete doing something special or hearing a brilliant artist serenade us? Why does the story line of LeBron returning home draw such sentimental response? Why did Kevin Durant’s M.V.P. speech move us so much? When Adele sings in a simple setting with her, a microphone, and a spot light, why are we frozen by the moment?

Professionals and businesses can learn a lot from this phenomenon that moves us with sports and/or music. The same moving emotions that inspire us to stay up late to watch an awards show or take a half a day off work to watch a soccer match are driven by the same general principle we see in sports but cannot interpret and apply to business for some reason. The principle is simple, an individual reaching their greatest potential. In the bible the apostle Paul even makes reference to God desiring individuals to reach their greatest potentials, becoming all they can be as an individual, becoming what God made them for, become full (Ephesians 4:13). There is something special about seeing someone who is doing what they are meant to do. Talented artists who have a voice that can move mountains inspire us when we see them in their element. The same rings true of sports. When we see an athlete who is meant to be an elite level athlete achieve great things it is moving to us as fans. We all have this internal longing to reach our full potential and when we see others achieving our own desires we are inspired and captivated. So how do we move from crying over M.V.P. acceptance speeches and moving soccer team performances to applying this principle in our own lives, most specifically, our professions.

I’d love to play basketball professionally. I've even been told by a guy who plays professional overseas I could definitely keep up with his team. As flattering as that is the truth is I’m 30, have deteriorating knees, and am only 5’10”, so playing professional basketball is just a pipe dream at this point. That’s not where I’m going to quench that proverbial thirst to achieve my greatest potential. Iridescent lights and cubicles are a painful reality to most of us, but they don’t have to be. I’m not going to sell you on the idea of quitting your job and doing what you love. Maybe what you love is not necessarily going to put you in a position to make any money. Making money is a reality and a necessity in our culture, so unless you are ok with living on the streets and not having anything, you probably want to make some money. The best way we can mix this idea of becoming the fullness of what we have the potential to become and work in a world that makes us money is by learning the most we can about ourselves. Our current professional structure most often measures us to standards and doesn't focus much on strengths. This feedback system typically only focuses on weaknesses and how to become better. So we have a workforce trying o become better at things they aren't good at and that effort is taken away at truly taking advantage of what we are good at, our strengths. If we can learn our strengths and weaknesses and be humble and realistic enough to admit them at that point we can begin to work on fulfilling our potential. 

I wonder if the professional world and my generation begin to think this way if we wouldn't be more fulfilled in our own lives and professions and not necessarily need to escape from our reality with sports, but realize our own inspiring moments by achieving what it is we are made to achieve best. I think if we changed our mental picture a bit we could reach great heights. Will you join me?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sales Cowboy

In planning for a move to a different state all things must be considered, including boring things, like health insurance. Most employers have health insurance as a group plan provided to their employees for a portion of their pay, however, some don’t. Not knowing who I will work for or what their benefits package may or may not be, I must prepare for all possibilities, including paying out of pocket for my own health insurance benefits. As a precaution I went to a website to request a quote for health insurance and then immediately regretted my decision. I was bombarded with an oppressive amount of phone calls from insurance “sales professionals.” So many calls that I started answering the phone with, “Hello, this is Adam, are you calling about health insurance?” Of all the “sales professionals” I “spoke” with I only had an earnest conversation with one, that’s one out of about 25, which is about 4%.

What is “sales professional” and “spoke” in quotations for? Am I one of “those people” who are constantly caught with my 2 fingers ever so slightly bent, eye brows raised, and throwing out obligatory quotes around things like a young gunslinger from the Wild West? No ma’am, no sir, nope, sorry partner, that’s not me. I’m no irrelevant quote finger slinging cowboy. The one guy I actually spoke with, had a genuine conversation with, was an exception of the blood sucking, number chasers I listened to practice scripted monologues. I didn’t really get to speak, thus my use of the quotation marks. The same is true of sales professional, which leads me to the very essence of this writing. Is that really a sales professional? What is sales? What is a sales professional in this new environment? Answering these questions will help sales organizations decided what kind of business they want to run, what type of business they want to retain, and what sales actually is, which all shapes a company culture.

I will NEVER do business with any of the companies that contacted me regarding health insurance. Their sales professionals represented their employers horribly. Insurance is like shoes, paper, homes, or any other product or service. You aren’t really going to twist someone’s arm into doing something; you’ll just create an unhappy customer or even worse, a regretful one. So what is sales then? What are these people trying to do or where are they missing the boat? As a universal principle, everything and everyone has a value. It is our personal experiences and contexts that develop and shape our value systems. I value quality over money or quantity. Some people value low cost over quality. The point is we all have different value systems. As an example I’ll refer to one of my favorite things, shoes. I love shoes, yes, love. I get a high from finding a special pair or a nostalgic pair from my childhood I wasn’t able to get as a lower income family growing up. I now value quality over low cost. I would rather buy one pair of Cole Haan or Allen Edmonds oxfords than 7 pairs of Sketchers. That doesn’t mean Sketchers are bad shoes. That doesn’t mean everyone should buy Cole Haan or Allen Edmonds. That simply means I prefer getting a quality pair of shoes over a reasonably priced one with lesser quality. I’d rather invest upfront, say $650 for those Cambridge Wingtips that will last me 10 years over replacing them each year for a pair of $99.95 Steve Maddens. Mathematically, in my head, it makes sense to spend 650 once every ten years than it would be to spend $99.95 for 10 years, which would come out to $999.50. So to me the value is in quality and longsighted durability.

As sales professionals it is most effective to figure out the value system of the individual you are talking to. I would make that sales pitch to a guy like myself who gets sticker shock over a $650 pair of wingtips because I know he values quality and durability over just the cheapest price. However, if a young guy fresh out of college came into buy shoes and he only had $200 dollars to spend and was only getting the shoes for an interview next week, my approach would be different. As would my sales approach be different to someone who likes to get a bunch of pricing and product details to compare and make a decision once all the data is in front of them. The point here is scripts and pushy salesmanship is a short sighted ideology for companies.

So what is selling then? At its core sales is about product knowledge and relationship management/development. Know what you are representing and be confident that this product or service will sell itself. If you present the product confidently and worry about developing rapport with the other party you can then begin to understand their value system. You can then become something more than a stranger offer or trying to force something down their throat. When you remove price from the equation it becomes more about personal values. When you can stroke someone’s personal value system then you begin to get into elite selling. Elite because you create a relationship where trust is built in and no longer are they purchasing the product or service, they are purchasing you, your company, something that has no competitors.
Sales is more complicated than people like to make it. I understand it’s quick and easy for companies to make things easy, however, sells is about people and people are complicated and complex. A solution to a complex problem cannot be simple and black and white. Why would selling something be then? I think it’s high time we as professionals and businesses begin to re-imagine and redefine the ideology of sales.

What do you think? What do you sell? What are some of your sales experiences, good and bad?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Self-Awareness and Shiny Objects (ooo…was that a squirrel?)

Our world is changing if you haven’t noticed. In particular the biggest generation ever seen, The Baby Boomers, is getting older and retiring from the work force. This reality is changing the way we think, how our businesses run and…is that a squirrel…the general makeup of the available work force. The millennial as we are referred to is preparing to take the helms and drive our country…oooo shiny things…into the next phase of the future. Someone is cooking hot dogs downstairs and it smells delicious. What am I going to eat for lunch? What am I going to do this weekend?

The big white elephant in the room should be paid attention to now. We are easily distracted like a dog chasing a squirrel, the film UP! comes to mind. My mind wanders all the time. Most of our generation has been diagnosed as ADD or ADHD. We are all drugged up and over caffeinated. Starbucks and drug companies that produce Adderall, or the generic form, are making cash off our general characteristics. At the same time we are comparing ourselves to a different generation and coming up with self-defeating ideologies that hold us back. We can’t focus, we’re not reliable, we’re not loyal, and on and on these general assessments of a millennial goes when compared to the old way of doing things and the baby boomers that came before us.

Rather than trying to duplicate what a great generation did, it would be more progressive and productive to understand what they did, why they did it and how they were.  What was the norm and why? Well, think about it, Baby Boomers are considered to be born from 1946 and 1964 or post-World War II. So they were kids following the war, any idea what happened before the war? The Great Depression started around 1930 and lasted until about 1940 by most estimates. Most of us have parents or grandparents we can vividly recall ironing out used aluminum foil or washing plastic cups to save money and resources. Why did they do that? Well, simply put, they had to during the Great Depression. The war hits and during, but mostly afterwards we (USA) experience a huge surge of resources and money. We became wealthy, but we were not removed from our roots. Baby boomers’ parents experienced the Great Depression first hand and passed on habits and behaviors to their children. Those children now have children and grandchildren who no longer can accept those behaviors and ways of thinking, the world has changed drastically. Staying at a job for 30 years was considered common place for this generation. Working factory jobs and manual labor was the glue that held out country together. So we were taught by these folks and this became the norm, the baseline for what is considered standard. Our generation naturally compares ourselves to the baseline and comes up with a judgment on ourselves based off that analysis.

We have poor work ethic. We aren't loyal to a company. We believe in pipedreams. Our heads are in the clouds. Are we though? Is it fair to generalize these statements to our generation? Meghan Casserly does a great job at comparing the two generations in her Forbes article Millennials and Baby Boomers: At Odds or Peas In a Pod? The reality is that the world doesn't require what the baby boomers view as traditional or good any longer. We don’t operate in a manufacturing or industrial age anymore. We are in the technology age, which requires much less hard work than it does creativity. What are creative people though? Daniel Pink does a fantastic job in A Whole New Mind describing how right-brainers will rule the future. A right-brainer as a very loose and general statement is someone who is creative and brain chemistry is strictly different from those left-brainers, which many of the baby boomers are. We have a huge opportunity coming up quickly (the youngest boomer is 50) to become the next generation of leaders and movers. We have the opportunity in front of us to change things for the next generation. The question is, how do we resolve ourselves with this existing mindset that presently rules the professional world?

The answer is complex and many have opinions, mine of which is maybe a fraction of a percentage point in the grand scheme of academia and the professional world. But, since this is my blog, I’ll give you my thoughts anyways. The key to unlocking our full potential as a generation of right-brainers is self-awareness. I’d actually extend that prescription to everyone, self-awareness is the key to growth. If we don’t know how our minds work and how our environment is changing how can we anticipate being of any nominal impact? The key here is to learn as much as we can so we understand how to apply what we've learned, what we've learned about ourselves, not the past or the way things used to be. Here are books that have really helped me gain a better understanding of myself in order to position myself for greater success in the future:

Marti Laney offers great insights to how an extrovert and introvert’s minds work. Some of the book is cheesy and about relationships, but all in all Introvert and Extrovert in Love is a great read that helps you understand why you have such a short attention span. Mindset is a great read about how we view ourselves in comparison to the world. Pink introduces the idea of right-brainers to the general populace candidly and helps you understand why those youngsters or even why you act and think the way you do. So what? Read a bunch, but I can’t focus (you would understand why if you read these books). I’ll just wait until the boomers retire knowing there will be a labor deficit and we’ll all finally get the jobs we want and deserve, right? No, no sir, you are incorrect and taking a huge risk. Why not prepare yourself now for what is to come so when that day comes and the workforce experiences their own little rapture you are standing head and shoulders above anyone that would be considered competition.

I make checklists to stay focused. I go to a crowded coffee shop if I want to really focus on reading. Do I take Adderall? Yes, I take Adderall, but only when I needed it, understanding why and when I need it. My point here is, instead of seeing yourself as something less than, by educating yourself on, well, yourself you can become better and confident and well-quipped to rule the future. 

I'm back! Freeeeeedoooooom!!

Email has become such a frequent medium of “communication” that it is often ignored causing some things to be overlooked that probably require your attention. Such was the case with my Go Daddy account. I let me domain expire. I use a simple Google blogger interface and link my domain to have a clean, personalized website for myself. It’s where I contemplate life, give my personal and professional experiences, and hope to become a bit more visible in our ever-evolving virtual world.

That all came to a halt when I let that domain go expired though. Go Daddy wanted me to pay some additional exorbitant penalty fee for renewing my expired domain, which I flat out refused to do. I understand the business and this was probably in my contract when I signed up, but to freeze an account until the “owner” of the domain pays your high fee is ridiculous. I thought I’d beat the system and fight the power and try to buy it with a different email address, however, Go Daddy wouldn't sell it to me because the domain was already owned by another user. “Hey, I’m that user, but you won’t let me have it unless I pay your fee!” I grimaced to myself as I made my decision to let the domain go; thus my long absence from any sort of writing and noticeable lack of web-presence since last December (2013). Lesson here is renew your domain name and all will be well in the world wide web.

I’m back! I got smart and just decided to remove the custom domain name from my blogger account settings. My blog is now unlocked and ready for me to publish. I’m still considering buying a new domain from Go Daddy, but I truly do not appreciate their hidden fees and unwavering and inflexible customer service so the largest portion of me is holding off doing business with them. I don’t like being put in a position where I am forced to do anything; I want my freedom (said in my best William Wallace). I also need to express myself to purge my mind so I am not so unfocused. Writing is like therapy to me. 

In other news: